Victory Condition review at Royal Court, London – ‘unsettling and beautiful’
Chris Thorpe is one of the sharpest philosophers and most beautiful poets in playwriting today. In Victory Condition those two talents meet, chillingly, to offer an abstract meditation on chance, simultaneity and humanity.
Jonjo O’Neill and Sharon Duncan-Brewster walk into a smart flat (designed by Chloe Lamford). It’s clear they’ve just got back from holiday. Without talking to each other they both address monologues directly to the audience. But what each of them is saying has no relation to the other, or to what both of them are doing – unpacking, ordering a pizza.
O’Neill thinks he’s a man deciding whether to fire a gun, Sharon a woman frozen in time in an office. O’Neill speaks like he’s a small boy contentedly rattling off some make believe monologue to pass the time, while Duncan-Brewster is more anxious, and pauses more often.
Towards the end of the play she has a long passage of unbroken speech that seems to hint at some semblance of plot – a little girl with the power to summon moments between her hands – but that matters less than its delivery. Duncan Brewster, sitting on the edge of an IKEA armchair, seems to make the theatre around her disappear. It’s pretty magical.
It’s credit to Featherstone’s direction that we feel like we get to know this couple, even though they say nothing to each other. But it’s the way that O’Neill goes straight for his phone while Duncan-Brewster leaves hers in her holiday bag, and the way that they catch each other’s eye as O’Neill pours a glass of wine that populate the gaps between their speeches and make them seem likeable and in love.
The big idea seems to be that so many countless things are all happening at any one moment, and some of them are nice, some of them aren’t, and Thorpe suggests that there could be unexpected connections in those infinities. But it’s a piece that’s happy enough to remain suggestive about its ‘meaning’. It’s enough that Thorpe has the power to mesmerise with his language, aggressively satirising and tenderly embracing the strangenesses of the world in equal measure.