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Against, Almeida, review: ‘A rich, timely piece but sprawling and tonally uneven’

PUBLISHED: 10:44 25 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:51 25 August 2017

Ben Whishaw and Emma D'Arcy  in Against at the Almeida. Picture: Johan Persson

Ben Whishaw and Emma D'Arcy in Against at the Almeida. Picture: Johan Persson

JOHAN PERSSON

Against at the Almeida follows a Silicon Valley billionaire as he tries to change society’s attitudes towards violence

Ben Whishaw returns to the Almeida to lead this ambitious new epic from Christopher Shinn. If unwieldy, it’s certainly well-intentioned in its examination of where violence stems from and how to tackle it.

Whishaw is Luke, an Elon Musk/Mark Zuckerberg-esque Silicon Valley billionaire genius. He’s stepped away from producing cutting-edge rockets and AI after receiving what he thinks is a message from God to “go where there’s violence”.

His pilgrimage across the US encompasses everything from school shootings and college rapes to prisoner abuse and exploited workers. Though he initially keeps the God part quiet, he quickly becomes a messianic figure.

Luke decides to stay in violence-stricken communities longer than others normally would – rather than moving onto the latest incident – but Shinn’s play is too restless, darting between massive ideas. He also touches on sex workers, job erosion, PC culture, the immense power of modern tech giants, and response to trauma.

It sometimes feels more like an ethics seminar than a drama, not helped by multiple scene changes – though the latter are well handled by director Ian Rickson and Ultz’s slick, minimalist design. It’s more effective at the human level: two blue-collar workers (Adelle Leonce and Elliot Barnes-Worrell) in an awkward, charged courtship; Luke exploring his problems with intimacy; Fehinti Balogun riveting as the former friend of a school shooter.

Whishaw is an excellent anchor: gentle and open, but quietly magnetic in his intelligence and purpose. There’s great support from Amanda Hale as the journalist hopelessly in love with him, as well as Emma D’Arcy’s impressionable student, Nancy Crane delivering multiple roles, and Kevin Harvey as a zealous creative writing professor and Jeff Bezos send-up.

Though sprawling and tonally uneven, it’s still a rich, timely piece with moments of memorable power.

3/5 stars

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