Review: The Sunset Limited, at The Boulevard
31 January, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu
Gary Beadle and Jasper Britton in The Sunset Limited. Photo: Marc Brenner
REMINISCENT of a Samuel Beckett play, nothing much happens in Cormac McCarthy’s drama The Sunset Limited. Part of the attraction of Beckett is often his lack of words.
That “quietness” is lacking in the UK premiere of McCarthy’s nihilistic, dialogue-driven play. McCarthy is probably best known for his Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Road, an equally stark look at the futility of life.
However thrilling it is to visit the new Boulevard theatre in the heart of Soho, this two-hander will likely divide audiences.
Black (Gary Beadle), an African-American ex-convict, has just prevented White (Jasper Britton), a college professor, from jumping in front of the New York train known as The Sunset Limited. He’s brought the professor home to his modest apartment and attempts to talk him out of his despair.
The middle-aged men move warily around one another – like chess pieces, each on a particular trajectory. The contrasts between them are laid bare and make us question why Black (the downtrodden) should have to talk White (the privileged) out of anything.
Black relies heavily on his faith (he found God in prison), but White has no belief in anything. “The one thing I won’t give up is giving up,” he quips. He doesn’t even look forward to death.
The thought of having to meet his mother on the other side horrifies him.
The men parry with one another, share a coffee and a meal, but neither manages to persuade the other to change their perspective.
You can’t fault the stellar performances, but it’s hard to be drawn into this challenging, bleak play. Given its static setting, Terry Johnson has little room for manoeuvre and one can’t help thinking that McCarthy’s arguments would have been better served in a novel or on radio.
Until February 29.