Autobahn: King's Head Theatre - Review


‘I’m going to tell you here, in the car, where you can’t run away...’

Movement seems like an obvious necessity in a play that promises to engage its audience for a running time of over two hours. Yet stasis is precisely what makes Autobahn so captivating; the characters can’t move anywhere, they can’t walk away or leave the room. They are stuck, in one car, with one other person, and it is through this close proximity that LaBute can delve deep into the bitter alienation and acute claustrophobia of human relationships.

Autobahn is a collection of seven different vignettes, staged in the front seat of a car. From furtive young lovers to strained married couples and from an estranged mother and daughter to a worryingly close teacher and pupil, LaBute’s wonderful collection of playlets is constantly teetering on the edge between hilariously funny, and terrifyingly sinister.

In ‘Funny’, a girl being driven back from rehab by her mother declares her impending relapse. Zoe Swenson-Graham is spellbinding, playing a character reminiscent of Iago at his most vindictive; both ruthlessly cruel and undeniably enthralling. While her daughter chatters on, Sharon Maughan is blank-faced and apathetic in a showy fur coat, her pursed, painted lips sipping coffee; her silence saying everything.

In ‘Bench Seat’ we see Graham in an entirely different role, as she plays a highly strung and horribly insecure, overbearing girlfriend. Her paranoid behaviour, which at first seems harmless (if not irritating) is much more alarming than we may first suspect. Henry Everett is a tad overbearing in ‘All Apologies’, where he lacks any subtlety as a coked up, drunk and aggressive husband. He is much more engaging in ‘Road Trip’, where he wonderfully captures the complex dichotomy of an old man who is sad and lonely but also ominously threatening.

‘Autobahn’ is my favourite of the lot, where LaBute unfolds as a master of dramatic monologue. Maughan plays a woman who has just renounced responsibility for her foster son after his fractious behaviour and his ensuing allegations against his foster father, claiming sexual assult. She repeatedly mentions her flirtation as a younger woman with a career in acting, and as the scene goes on, it becomes evident that she never really stopped: she lives in complete disillusion of reality, or rather, she chooses not to see things as they really are. Her line ‘I’m not a naive housewife but you didn’t touch that boy did you’ is not a question but a statement.

Although the seven different senarios at first seem entirely separate, the main idea that runs through all seven pieces is language itself. LaBute is playful in his exploration of words and their meanings, and manages to artfully reveal much more about his characters than they are themselves aware of.

(C) Georgia Rose 2014

King's Head Theatre
27th August - 20th September 2014
7.15pm start with Saturday matinee (20th) at 2pm

Twitter: @SaviourTheatre
Telephone: 0207 478 0160

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