Where to start? Wallace Shawn's new play is premiering at the Royal Court Upstairs. I'm not familiar with his earlier work (although I'm going to see Aunt Dan and Lemon in a couple of weeks' time) so I have no point of comparison but this is very odd. Set at some point in the future, Shawn himself plays Ben, a scientist who's been involved in some extreme experiments to combat world hunger, which mostly seem to involve turning animals into cannibals. The other big change in this world is the extremes sexual liberation has reached - "I know it's hard to imagine, but there used to be a time when you'd never masturbate in public. Not even in front of your parents!" The 65-year-old Ben goes on to reminisce about the three women in his life, his wife (Miranda Richardson,) long-term mistress (Jennifer Tilly) and a young girl he had an affair with in recent years (Emily McDonnell.)
It's a very long play, over three hours, and the middle hour in particular has extremely graphic descriptions of their sex lives - too graphic, to be honest, especially in such a small auditorium where the star of The Princess Bride can look you in the eye at close quarters and say "I was astonished by the amount of hair around her cunt." This middle act plays out like a screwed-up fairytale, not least of all in the many fantasy sequences where he imagines fucking a cat. If the cat is pulling everyone's strings sexually in this act, in the third all of nature rebels against Ben's genetic manipulation of food, and humankind seems to be dying out as their stomachs can't handle it.
There's some interesting things to be said here but Shawn takes far too long to say them - almost all the text is monologues, mostly from Shawn himself, the women occasionally managing to get a word in edgeways. I'm not sure how this would have played with a different actor in the lead, but having the playwright himself play the part, three hours of a little old bald man bragging about the amazing sex he's had with three beautiful women comes across, unsurprisingly, as an extended wank fantasy. Still, the performances in Andre Gregory's production are all very good, especially from Jennifer Tilly.
When it finally finished sometime after 11 and I went to pick up my bag, the cloakroom attendant said "made it to the end then?" Clearly not everyone does.
Grasses of a Thousand Colours by Wallace Shawn is booking until the 27th of June at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.