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The Royal Court is under new management; Dominic Cooke started as artistic director in January. In its Theatre Upstairs, however, it’s business as usual. The Eleventh Capital is part of the Court’s Young Writers’ Festival, and its author, Alexandra Wood, is in her early 20s. Yet it feels as if it’s been written by an even younger writer. It’s stuck in some Orwellian totalitarian regime. We hear about the government, the authorities, the curriculum, about “them” and “him”. The characters are all relatively low down this food-chain, and most of them are victimised by the system even as they work for it. There’s little change and little drama.

The play’s most arresting structural feature is that it has six scenes, all of them duets. Only the fourth scene opens up into a trio. They feature a range of different characters: a cleaner, two thieves, a carpenter, an entrepreneur, a journalist, a boy, a girl, a wife, a driver. In five of the duets, the characters are spatially close to each other, often speaking in lowered voices. We see as well as hear the perpetual apprehension in which these people live. Only, again, in the fourth scene does the space open up as some degree of confrontation emerges. But the overall mood is one of perpetual inhibition, alarm, guilt – unyieldingly and unrewardingly so. Along conventionally Pinteresque lines, the language is plain, unadorned, with a constant sense of the menace of the larger world beyond these characters.

Natalie Abrahami, directing, could make a much better case for the play. This is a promenade performance (the play lasts 60 minutes), but, though the audience must rearrange itself somewhat for the first four scenes in particular, this isn’t arresting or entertaining. The scene changes are long enough for one to be aware that they are also tedious. Though several of the eight actors handle parts of their short roles with pathos or energy, most of them have flat passages, and at least one of them is of an am-dram dullness.

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