Chicks at the Theatre Review of The Sunset Limited
The ambiance of the revamped Boulevard Theatre in Soho gave the cast of The Sunset Limited an intimate backdrop into which they drew the audience in with this thought-provoking play. I had not heard of the play by American writer Cormac McCarthy, first published in 2006. Due to my lack of knowledge about the play, its simplicity took me completely by surprise. The play for all intents and purposes is an open dialogue between two men.
The audience is left to depict the two nameless men, where they are and what has just taken place. It appears that right before the play begins one-character saves another from jumping in front of a train. This is spoken about in ambiguous language where the man describes him leaping into his arms that very morning and not long ago having been on ‘death row’. The script gives way to some beautiful, metaphorical language. During the play, I had thought that The Sunset Limited was a metaphor for heaven, but the title is actually named after a train that travels from New Orleans to LA. The Cast is described as Black who is played by Gary Beadle and White, the condemned character played by Jasper Britton. The plays subtitle “A Novel in Dramatic Form”, seems apt considering the flowery language used throughout the play. The characters names of ‘Black’ and ‘White’ seem to be an indication of how far away they are belief wise rather than a racial statement. They both hold firm and completely contrasting beliefs and there are no fifty shades of grey, no meeting point in which one man changes his mind.
Gary Beadle’s Black has just stopped Jasper Britton’s White from dying by suicide. Black used to be a violent criminal before he found God while White is a professor and atheist. They discuss a lot in this 90-minute play, from the meaning of life, suffering, family, negative thoughts and death. I found it interesting that the play began with Black’s perspective and his reasoning instead of White’s. Logically, I would have presumed that when someone tries to kill themselves there is the ‘why?’ but instead Black reasonably argued about the existence of God, then White told his perspective.
Black spoke very logically about his faith and the faith he put in the Bible. He compared it to both historical books and War and Peace, even stating that he didn’t believe all of it and thought of people as fundamentally good. That evil and badness grows into people and that he hadn’t ever had an original thought in his brain. God spoke to him when he thought that Black would listen and if White could just be silent God too would come to him. This starkly contrasted the backstory we later here of Black continuously stabbing a fellow convict with a screw in the head before turning to God. Can anyone really change their life around that much? Or are the characters in a philosophising purgatory after succumbing to death? Later, White admitted to having an average of 5 negative thoughts a day about strangers. He spoke about his father’s cancer, his own failings and the meaningless of it all. I was drawn back to Black’s argument which put the question in my mind ‘Why does his suffering mean so much when life itself doesn’t?’.
I cannot praise the actors enough for holding our attention and making this debate something I would see again. Every word in this dialogue-dense play matters. I would highly recommend it for the philosophers and intellectuals among us or anyone that enjoys a good debate. Two men of different, beliefs, histories and backgrounds talking and having an open dialogue about mental health. These technically talented actors made the debate something I would see again. They made the play seem shorter than it is, and both portrayed an engaging and thought-provoking performance.
All in all, director Terry Johnson’s production is full of truth, and subtle brilliance. The mind of the disturbed philosopher was perfectly captured by Britton. There was stark turning point when my interest was peaked by the realisation of what was really happening, the subtext and meaning behind the confrontation in the first place. I may go and see it again, just to see what I pick up on next time.
The Sunset Limited will run until the 29thof February at The Boulevard Theatre. Tickets are available here: https://boulevardtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-sunset-limited/#book
Reviewed by Ciara Kelleher
Ciara is an Irish actress, writer and presenter. She completed a BA in International Business in Ireland before moving to London to pursue acting. She has previously published an article with Concern and lived in Luxembourg and South Carolina. She completed the Advanced Intensive Acting Diploma at the Giles Foreman Centre for Acting and has taken on roles such as Queen Margaret, Hazel in ‘Mourning Becomes Electra’ and Cassandra in ‘Women of Troy’ and has written for Radio HaHa!