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A challenging book, play or film is a hard nut to crack.

Its inscrutability could hide a masterpiece, accessible to any intellect capable of piercing the daunting outer shell. Or, equally, the reward for the effort of getting to its meaning could prove a huge disappointment, which is like wasting time splitting open a tough walnut only to find it’s gone rancid.

I saw a play by Martin Crimp called ‘In the Republic of Happiness’ last Saturday, and it’s an example of the latter (well, as it’s nearly Christmas I’ll be generous and give it 2 stars out of 5).

It was my first visit to The Royal Court, home of edgy new drama. I wasn’t expecting an easy ride. The first of the play’s three scenes was a conventionally unconventional family Christmas, complete with dysfunctional family. Things start to become odd when an uninvited uncle turns up to deliver a virtual monologue about how much his wife hates the family.

A brief musical interlude, and it’s on to the next scene. This drops all pretence at story progression in favour of putting the actors on a line of chairs and getting them to spout psychobabble. The final act takes place in a sterile and (to me) slightly sinisterly utilitarian room with an office desk and chair. Just two of the actors are involved. They speak to each other without really understanding what the other is saying (‘What?’ says the chap – and he’s not deaf).

I didn’t understand what was being said, either. At least the previous act had been enlivened by some pop numbers: anyone can get pop music.

As for the play as a whole, a few newspaper critics do seem to have an idea of what is going on. I expect they bought the script, on sale in the foyer, so had the advantage of reading what they had seen performed.

But this is not really good enough. The point of staging a play like this is to entertain and stir the thoughts of interested and open minded theatre goers. It shouldn’t be a Ulysses, which most people acknowledge must be left to those studying English Lit.

Theatre of the Absurd? More like theatre of the abject.

Royal Court sign

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