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True West

by Sam Shepard

Tricycle Theatre, London
4 September 4 October
2014

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Cast List

Austin Eugene O'Hare
Lee
Alex Ferns
Saul Kimmer
Steven Elliot
Mom
Barbara Rafferty 

Directed by Phillip Breen
Designed by Max Jones
Lighting Design
er
Tina McHugh
Composer and Sound Designer
Andrea J Cox
CSM
Helen Knott
DSM
Sarah Hellicar
ASM
Lucy 
  
  


   
Read Sam Shepard's interview in The Observer about the production.
 
Read my interview in What's On Stage.
 
Read my interview with Don't Panic Online in which I talk about gorging myself on Westerns.
 
Read Eugene O'Hare's interview with West End Frame on playing Austin in True West.
 
Read Alex Ferns feature interview in The Sunday Herald on playing Lee in True West.
 
 
Reviews

UK Theatre Award nomination for 'Best Design'

The Guardian
Lyn Gardner's Theatre Blog
 
The Tricycle's True West: a classic play gets a classic production
After 30 years and numerous versions, I have finally seen why the hype around Sam Shepard's 1980 play is justified. Which revivals have changed your mind about feted works?
 
At about half past seven on Tuesday night at the Tricycle in north London, I had a revelation. There were no angels, and nobody else in the theatre would have noticed. It was just the quiet realisation, about 20 minutes into the press night of Sam Shepard's True West, that it really is a very good play indeed.
 
Now of course I know that Shepard's 1980 drama, about two brothers – an aspiring screenwriter and a thieving drifter – having a wild west-style showdown in their mother's Hollywood house, offers a vision of masculinity in crisis in a land where myth has long turned sour. I also know that it is considered a modern classic. Every piece of theatre publicity for every production I've ever seen of the play has always told me so. Categorically.
 
It's one of those plays whose status is so assured that to start questioning it feels a bit like asking whether King Lear is any good. But the truth is that, although I've seen some adequate productions of True West over the last 30 years, until Tuesday I had never seen a revival that convinced me that the play's modern-classic status was valid. The acting always felt like so much posturing, and until Phillip Breen's thrillingly performed production I never really witnessed the play's text and subtext, metaphor and staged reality firing on all cylinders together. The sense is palpable in this version that the brothers are endlessly chasing each other and an impossible dream.
 
I missed the famed 1994 Matthew Warchus version at the Donmar with Mark Rylance and Michael Rudko alternating the roles of good guy Austin and bad boy Lee. Warchus also staged the play in New York in 2000 with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly doing the same. Maybe if I'd seen either of these productions, my eyes would have been opened earlier to the power of Shepard's dark vision.
 
But I didn't, which made me think that there must be thousands of theatregoers who think Hamlet or A View from the Bridge are a bit rubbish and Three Sisters terribly dull and overrated, because they've just not been lucky enough to see a great revival of these classic plays. So I'd love to hear about the classics you thought you didn't rate and the productions that were a revelation and made you change your mind.
 
 
The Guardian

by Lyn Gardner 
 
Sibling rivalry erupts like a volcano
This searing staging of Sam Shepard’s play tackles the violence between two misfit brothers head-on.
 
The good boy and the outlaw square up to each other and the result is not pretty in Sam Shepard’s 1980 play. It gets a searingly good – and often very funny – revival by Phillip Breen, which arrives at the Tricycle by way of Glasgow’s Citizens theatre.
 
Eugene O’Hare brings just the right touch of Ivy League prissiness to Austin, a young, ambitious screenwriter on the verge of his first big success who is holed up in his mother’s Hollywood home. But the quiet is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Austin’s drifter brother, Lee, a petty thief fresh from the Mojave desert. There is something wonderfully feral about Alex Ferns’s performance, suggesting that Lee has been pulled through a cactus backwards and that the cactus won. More frightening is his violence, which erupts like an unpredictable volcano and brings chaos in its wake.
 
Soon ancient sibling scars are bleeding as Lee swipes a movie deal from under his brother’s nose, selling it to a producer who loves the “authenticity” of his stories. But it’s far more than sibling rivalry which is under the microscope, and Breen knows it in a production where the scenes are framed in a way that suggests the eye of the movie camera. It’s a revival which always holds its nerve. There are pauses here that lesser actors might fall into and entirely disappear, but O’Hare and Ferns are always right on it as the brothers who seem so different but who are connected by the memory of a drunken, absent father.
 
This is a play not just about selling American dreams, or even the collapse of the American dream, or the collapse of the American family. Everything is trashed here, not just the kitchen. When Lee takes a club to the typewriter, it is culture that comes off worse. Beyond the ruins, the coyotes howl. But the beast is within, eyeballing itself. 
 
The Daily Telegraph

by Serena Davies
 
Sam Shepard himself has rightly praised Phillip Breen’s brilliant small-scale production of Shepard’s seminal 1980 play, first seen at Glasgow’s Citizens' Theatre last year. It hasn’t the starry cast that has attracted actors of the ilk of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones to its award-baiting rendition of two brothers having a melt-down. But this works in its favour, since Alex Ferns – who, stones heavier and goateed, is near unrecognisable from his days as an abusive husband in EastEnders – and Eugene O’Hare can grab us by the jugular, free of the entanglement of celebrity.
 
This they do from moment one as shutters in front of the stage split to reveal them poised in psychological stand-off (a state we will also leave them in, a modern Cain and Abel frozen in a Hopper-esque scene of American alienation). O’Hare, wound up tight as a spring, plays Austin, a screenwriter desperate for his latest idea to be commissioned by a studio. Ferns is the filthy thief Lee, the whites of his eyes showing from the off, every peculiarly slowed-down gesture suggestive of a punch at the end of it – a Pinteresque touch.
 
Austin is house-sitting their mother’s LA home, whose Seventies kitchen living room is intricately rendered by designer Max Jones. Lee turns up to torment him, which he does most effectively by persuading a producer that Austin has been courting for months that his own idea for a movie is better than Austin’s.
 
As the brothers kick and smash about the American dream (Lee favours golf clubs for this activity), Shepard’s play feels bigger than a dissection of this favoured subject of both his and indeed much of 20th-century American literature. Yes, the dream is a cruel lie, Austin as keen to escape its seductions for oblivion in the desert at the play’s end as Lee pretends to be at its start. But these two men are also just two overgrown boys from any place and time, ruined by an alcoholic father.
 
Their tragedy is, with almost Shakespearean expertise, magnified by hilarity as Shepard swoops characteristically between the two in the second half. The scene when Austin returns having stolen all the neighbourhood’s toasters has to be one of the most hysterical ever conceived. Both Ferns, who is an adept physical comic, and O’Hare, foaming at the mouth, had the audience in stitches – but then, moments later, with both characters working so hard to mask their existential despair, they were very nearly making us cry. An enthralling production of a true classic. 
  
As the brother drink themselves insensible and attempt to prove that they can assume each other's roles, their mother's home, once spotless and lush with plants, becomes a beer can-littered gang hut. The plants wither and die. Austin, unused to Nesbitt-style benders, accidentally breaks the fridge door. Lee, enraged by his inability to find a pencil, empties the cupboards and pulls the phone from the wall.
 
And with the curtains closed, Andrea J Cox's soundscape takes on even more significance. Lee finds the chirping crickets and howling coyotes claustrophobic. The wild creatures echo the mounting tension in the kitchen and, by the time the curtain closes on lee foaming at the mouth and smashing his brother's typewriter with a five iron, the coyotes are at fever pitch.
 
Shepard's script is so funny and lightly drawn, and Ferns' and O'Hare's double act so cleverly constructed, that it's not until you are in the car park that it dawns: this is inter-generational family tragedy. The chill comes afterwards, like the brothers' hangovers.
 
  
Financial Times

by Sarah Hemming

They’re probably still there now. That’s certainly the impression left by Philip Breen’s blistering production of True West (first seen at Glasgow Citizens Theatre) as the curtain draws slowly on the two brothers, eyes fixed on one another, locked in perpetual antagonism. It’s a staging that unleashes the savage power of Sam Shepard’s seminal 1980 play, which opens with a frosty stand-off in a suburban Californian kitchen, passes through something akin to Beckett and ends in the territory of Greek myth.

... It’s the detail that makes it. Alex Ferns’ blowsy, dishevelled Lee, his trousers just about sustained around his frame by a rope belt, combines an intense stare with peculiar feline grace, a curiously high-pitched voice and unnerving volatility. Once unleashed, he turns into a roaring, sweaty mountain of flesh. Eugene O’Hare’s excellent Austin matches him step for step, tiny flickers and flinches suggest his alarm. Also impressive are Steven Elliot’s snake-like producer and Barbara Rafferty as Mom, surveying the utter destruction of her kitchen with the serenity of one who owns a well-stocked medicine cabinet.
 
 
The Times

by Sam Marlowe
 
The American Dream is in smithereens by the end of Phillip Breen’s production of this 1980 modern classic by Sam Shepard. A bare-knuckle brawl between old myths and new illusions, civilisation and savagery, creativity and commerce, it’s played out in sibling strife of nerve-jangling violence. Breen delivers spectacular devastation and a giddily unhinged climax, the air full of fury and acrid smoke.
 
Yet the staging, first seen at Glasgow Citizens last year, is a slow burn, the quiet smouldering between explosions exasperatingly drawn out. The payoff is performances from Alex Ferns and Eugene O’Hare that sizzle with long-held resentment, envy and mistrust.
 
Holed up in his mother’s ice cream-coloured LA home while she’s on an Alaskan vacation, the buttoned-up, Ivy League-educated Austin (O’Hare) is attempting to break into the Hollywood movie industry. He’s bashing away at his screenplay on a typewriter when he’s interrupted by his brother Lee (Ferns), a drifter and petty crook just blown in — he claims — from the Mojave desert.
 
Liquored up, volatile and vindictive, Lee hijacks Austin’s meeting with a producer and presents his own cockeyed idea for an “authentic western”. When he demands that Austin help him write it the pair embark on a crazed collaboration that results only in wild destruction.
 
Were it not for his matted Elvis quiff, the hobo-ish Ferns would look like a refugee from a Pinter play — and there’s a Pinteresque quality to the gradual swell of menace here. When he opens his mouth, Ferns is downright creepy, his voice unexpectedly high and wheedling, his expression sly and mean, his pop-eyed outbursts followed by flickers of regret.
 
As O’Hare’s cowed Austin watches Lee steal his golden opportunity as casually as he robs their mother’s neighbours of their TV, his giggling derangement is horribly funny — particularly when, with lunatic sunniness, he obsessively stuffs with bread the dozens of toasters he’s stolen during his ludicrous crime spree.
 
Breen divides the scenes with a pair of black horizontal shutters, giving the action a widescreen appearance; the final frame, with the brothers in an enraged, panting stalemate, leaves us with a memorable, blackly comic image of helplessly thwarted ambition.
 
 
What's On Stage

by Michael Coveney
 
The Tricycle has done London theatre a great service in importing this brilliant and lacerating revival of Sam Shepard's signature play, True West (1980), intact from the Glasgow Citizens, where it was seen at the end of last year.
 
Two brothers, one a Hollywood screenwriter, the other a wild drunken hobo wandering the Mojave desert, meet after five years in their mother's suburban Californian home, exchange rival fantasies and ancient grudges, smash the place up, descending into feral chaos and violent hostility.
 
The more I see the play - and that's a lot, since I first saw Antony Sher and Bob Hoskins at the National and John Malkovich and Gary Sinise off-Broadway 30 years ago - the more I suspect that Austin the writer and Lee the last gasp of the old Western cowboy are complementary facets of the same person, that person being Shepard himself.
 
This has led actors in the past to alternate the roles - Mark Rylance and Michael Rudko at the Donmar, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly on Broadway, Nigel Harman and John Light in Sheffield last year - but although there's a strong element of role reversal in Philip Breen's production, there's no way these two actors could do the same.
 
Irish screen star Eugene O'Hare is a slight, meticulous Austin, fingering his typewriter as if it were a piano, gradually sucked into the horrifying realisation that his world of imagination has been invaded and colonised. Similarly, Alex Ferns - best known as the villainous Trevor Morgan in EastEnders - becomes increasingly recognisable as the archetypal realist road and landscape writer dressed in wolf's clothing. It's a sign of the play's poetic complexity that at no stage do these developments seem schematic or false.
 
The scenes are revealed in a shutter-like opening onto Max Jones' sleekly designed suburban interior, the azure skies of the desert beyond the chrome fittings and functional (soon to be dysfunctional) furniture. There's a taut, tense atmosphere as the brothers step warily around each other, the stakes changing with the arrival of Austin's agent, the glibly accommodating Saul Kimmer (Steven Elliot), in white trousers; Saul's immediately sold on Lee's outline of two no-hopers chasing each other's tails round the desert as a new "old" Western. He makes movies. Films are for the French.
 
The boys' Mom (Barbara Rafferty) returns from Alaska in the last scene ("Did you see any igloos?") and, in the background, is their unseen father, a hopeless alcoholic (like Shepard's) and the great story of him losing his teeth in a chop suey take-out meal on the Mexican highway. The climax, with an array of stolen toasters and much wielding of golf clubs (alas, poor typewriter) is shocking, visceral, metaphoric. The stage-management's clean-up and pre-set job must be the biggest nightmare of all.
 
 
The Stage

by Mark Shenton

The American dream unravels dramatically in Sam Shepard’s combustible masterpiece, revived in a constantly alert, eventually scorching production that was first seen at Glasgow Citizens’ last year and now transfers to London. 

Enclosed in a narrow letterbox of a set of the kitchen and conservatory of a Californian home, with shutters that close down between scenes, a fierce family drama plays out between two long-estranged brothers, Lee - a drifter and petty thief - and Austin, a Hollywood screenwriter, who are reunited after a five year absence in their mother’s home.

Director Phillip Breen emphasises Pinteresque pauses and notes of sheer menace as these siblings face each other off in a battle for possession and control. The visit of Steven Elliott’s Saul, a film producer, creates a power shift between them as Lee’s pitch of a film idea is accepted over the script that Austin has been developing.

When the play erupts into real violence in the second act, the production takes flight to an even darker, more frightening place. The dialogue bristles with fury; even if the voice of Alex Ferns’s Lee gets weirdly high-pitched as he rages, he is genuinely scary. Barbara Rafferty is both superb and moving as their mother returns from her holiday in Alaska to survey the wreckage that her home has become.

Although the production may occasionally threaten to go over the top, it’s a rollercoaster of a dramatic ride, and makes for a bracing night.
 
 
The Arts Desk
by Demetrios Matheou
 
Time doesn’t take any of the edge off Sam Shepard’s rollicking reflection on the dichotomy of America, the tussle between the myth and the dream, represented by two warring brothers trapped with an idea for a bad film in a sweltering California condominium. Written in 1980, it’s still brilliantly strange, raucously funny, rippling with resonance.
 
Directed by Phillip Breen, this production first aired in Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre last year. It’s a very good fit for the Tricycle, whose intimacy heightens our sense of eavesdropping on one helluva sibling spat.
 
Austin (Eugene O’Hare) is a Hollywood screenwriter working on a screenplay while house-sitting for his mother. He is rudely interrupted by the arrival of his older brother Lee (Alex Ferns), a drifter and petty crook, who claims to have been living in the Mojave desert. The pair haven’t seen each other for five years and there’s no love lost; in fact, Austin is positively terrified of his brother, whose physical intimidation gives him an early, upper hand as the Ivy Leaguer and the bum appear to be sharing the same home.
 
With the volatile Lee guzzling beer, threatening to break into the neighbours’ houses and waxing lyrical about his adventures in the desert, Austin’s attempts to write are entirely thwarted; worse, when his producer Saul Kimmer comes calling, Lee starts pitching his own idea for a film. A round of golf later, Lee is the one with the advance. If only he could type, or spell, or indeed write. Without a hint of irony, he seeks his brother’s help.
 
Shepard shapes his play around conflicted desires and role reversals. Each brother is lured by the other’s life, Lee now desiring the goldmine that he sees available in the film business, Austin’s suddenly frustrated aspirations in that direction giving way to the absurd notion that he must rediscover himself in the desert. And as Austin hits the bottle, it’s his turn to be the thorn in the side of someone trying to write; he also becomes a dab hand at thievery, the kitchen suddenly awash with toasters.
 
The scene in which the two battle over whether to collaborate on Lee’s “authentic Western”, while drunkenly destroying the house, is uproariously well executed. The famous destruction of the typewriter with a golf club is finessed by Ferns with the inspired addition of a fish slice, while O’Hare plays the toasters like an orchestra, the smell of burning toast filling the auditorium, the carnage played against a soundtrack of crickets and howling coyotes.
 
There’s a danger of this being so funny, of the production enjoying its controlled mayhem so much, that one will lose sight of what’s at stake – the identity, sanity, even lives of these two men, soaked in booze and desperation, each perhaps destined to end up the same wreck as their oft-mentioned father. It doesn’t help that Ferns’s comically fixed stare tends to convey gormlessness rather than threat; while hilarious, he doesn't always, quite ring true.
 
And yet Breen ensures that the writing never loses its grip, turning down the volume for lines and passages that evoke pathos and mystery, and presents these men as the victims of a country torn between old values and new, the romantic myth of the desert and the hollow American Dream represented by Hollywood; it’s not by accident that neither of them really starts their script, let alone finishes it.
 
Designer Max Jones has performed some sort of magic trick in constructing a vivid set that can destruct with such aplomb, and lighting designer Tina MacHugh’s calibration of the California light outside the window – a crucial anchor for the brothers during their benders – is quite beautiful.
 
 
Ham & High

by Marianka Swain
 
“What kinda people kill each other most? Family people.”
 
Buttoned-up screenwriter Austin (Eugene O’Hare), housesitting for his mother, and estranged brother Lee (Alex Ferns), a petty thief belligerently mythologising his drifter existence, embody the dangerous intensity of blood bond from their first appearance, frozen in tableau in a too-bright Californian home and framed exquisitely by Max Jones’ arresting widescreen shutters.
 
Phillip Breen’s revival of Sam Shepard’s 1980 masterpiece makes exceptional use of such cinematic visuals, underscoring the tension between the cultural ideal of the authentic West, represented by Lee’s misty-eyed frontiersman tall tales, and Hollywood exploitation.
 
Austin embraces the American Dream’s commercialism as he strives for a lucrative development deal, but when producer Saul (marvellously unctuous Steven Elliot) is seduced by Lee’s more “real” story, he drops Austin’s project and suggests the brothers collaborate on a screenplay.
 
The resulting sibling rivalry culminates in a frenzied orgy of destruction, but Breen’s production is most effective in the disciplined build-up, savouring each charged statement and Pinteresque pause, rich with menace.
 
The central pair superbly evoke a seething hinterland, shared history an almost visible barrier between them. O’Hare’s neurotic unravels in memorable fashion, while Ferns’ bully is terrifyingly capricious, one moment wheedling, the next swapping rabid jocularity for calculated violence.
 
They envy and romanticise one another’s lives, slip into a peculiar role reversal, and emerge hopelessly disillusioned. Both seem doomed to inherit their father’s alcoholism as they numb the pain of thwarted ambition, a fact their mother (nuanced Barbara Rafferty) recognises in a moment of agonising pathos.
 
Breen also captures the pitch-black satire of Shepard’s piece, which encapsulates Picasso’s belief that every act of creation is first an act of destruction. Chaos is heralded by the increasingly cacophonous howl of coyotes – those prowling beasts luring domestic pets from civilisation to savagery. That divide has never seemed so fragile.
 
 
LondonTheatre.co.uk

by Mark Shenton
 
Originally premiered in 1980 in San Francisco and first produced in the UK at the National in 1981 with the late Bob Hoskins and Antony Sher, Sam Shepard's True West is now an established contemporary masterpiece, and much beloved of actors wanting to test their acting mettle. I saw the National's production, and have since seen the pairings of Mark Rylance and Michael Rudko (at the Donmar Warehouse in 1994) and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly (on Broadway in 2000), both directed by Matthew Warchus in productions that had the actors swap the roles they were playing nightly.
 
The two estranged brothers at the centre of the play that each pairing played are seemingly chalk and cheese – one being a professional Hollywood screenwriter and the other a drifter who burgles homes for a living – who are reunited for the first time in five years at their mother's Californian home. But in the course of this bracing, brilliant play, they effectively swap roles entirely, so the fact that the actors did so, too, from night to night seemed fitting.
 
But Phillip Breen's new production at the Tricycle, which was first seen at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow last year, pulls off no such stunt. Instead, the two actors – physically contrasted between the bulky Alex Ferns as Lee and the lean, muscular Eugene O'Hare as Austin – couldn't be more different, yet as they circle around each other, at first warily and then more combustibly, there's a gradual transformation in each.
 
It's spellbinding to watch. Shepard's play maintains a thrilling tension between them throughout the play, and the two actors here seize and exploit it for all its worth. At first the production is all Pinteresque pauses and menace; but then it explodes in verbal and physical violence that is reminiscent of Mamet as they fight for possession and control. The visit of Steven Elliot's Saul, a film producer, creates a power shift between them as Lee's pitch of a film idea is accepted over the script that Austin has been long developing.
 
This blistering, shattering play has delivered again.
 
 
There Ought To Be Clowns
by Ian Foster

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays of the last century has actually proved to be quite useful in ensuring a wider variety in my theatregoing than might otherwise have taken place. With a trusty partner in crime who’s equally determined to tick off the whole list, I’ve seen a few things now that I wouldn’t necessarily have gone to – the notion of a ‘classic’ play isn’t necessarily something that appeals to me in and of itself, I want to be able to make up my own mind thank you very much. But this is a list that knows of what it speaks and this week it sent me to the Tricycle to see Sam Shepard’s 1980 play True West.
 
And sho’nuff, it’s a stone cold classic. This production premiered at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow last year and whilst it may have taken a while to transfer to London, we should be grateful indeed that it has for Phillip Breen marshals some extraordinary stage work by Eugene O’Hare and Alex Ferns as a pair of dichotomous brothers who represent the split in America itself. The well-put-together Austin is a family man who is an aspiring screenwriter on the cusp of a breakthrough deal in Hollywood, whilst Lee is an altogether more primal spirit, a drifter and a petty thief more at home in the Mojave Desert. When they meet for the first time in five years whilst house-sitting for their ma, sparks inevitably fly.
 
The way they fly is predictable at first, the slide back into childhood rhythms comes easily, the bullying Lee has a bruising physicality in Ferns’ quick-tempered older brother and there’s a squealing predictability to the way in which O’Hare’s younger sibling quickly acquiesces when the going gets tough. But as tables are turned and surprises unleashed, a whole world of chaos is unleashed in this SoCal suburb which is breath-taking in its tension. Breen captures this unravelling with pinpoint precision, even in the throes of the toast-based madness (has to be seen to be believed, don’t go to this play hungry!) Lee’s chilling stare and Austin’s masterful way with words remind of the cold intensity at the heart of their struggle.
 
Max Jones’ set frames the show in a deliberately cinematic way, scenes are broken up with the closing of lens shutters, Andrea J Cox’s sound design provides a relentless soundtrack of crickets and coyotes that speaks of the wildness of the emotional terrain being navigated here, and Tina MacHugh’s lighting is just astonishing with its vivid hues ramping up the tension in unexpected but most effective ways. The shards of dark humour that flash through the show equally keep us pleasingly wrong-footed and as a titanic final battle leaves us as breathless (though perhaps not quite as sweat-sodden) as the brothers, there’s no doubting the furious intent that lies at the heart of the division here and across the US. 
 
 
EntertainmentWise

by Shaun Kitchener
 
Eugene O’Hare and Alex Ferns are on spectacular form in Philip Breen’s production of True West; a revival of Sam Shepard’s 80s drama about a pair of brothers thrown back together on house-sitting duty after going off to lead very different lives.
 
O’Hare’s Austin is a screenwriter teetering on the edge of greatness, while Ferns’ Lee looks like he hasn’t changed his clothes or taken a good shower for a very long time. He’s a petty crook, he’s apparently been living in the Mojave desert and his fuse isn’t much shorter than that of Trevor Morgan, the menacing villain the same actor famously played on EastEnders at the turn of the century.
 
The nervous, delicate Austin is no match for Lee's volatile nature until the former's bigshot Hollywood producer friend Saul (Steven Elliot) decides to take on one of Lee’s random movie ideas; shaking Austin’s world on its axis and kick-starting a downward spiral involving property destruction, alcohol, sweat and a hell of a lot of toast. The siblings' relationship is inevitably strained to almost surreal extremes by the prospect of working together, and it's their mother’s house - designed to perfection by Max Jones - that bears the brunt of it.
 
The dialogue - focussed mainly on the very different lives the two mean lead - is deliciously prickly, the moments of humour hit the mark more often than not (particularly as the chaos goes from bad to worse towards the end), and Austin’s progression from neatly-presented semi-dweeb to intoxicated, household-appliance-snatching wreck is masterfully executed.
 
While the play has bursts of brilliance, it also has moments that drag; and the frequent but perhaps unavoidable scene changes are a tad laborious. But faultless performances by the leading men are what ultimately make the production as good as it is, and it's a credit to O'Hare, Ferns, Shepard and Breen that despite brief appearances from two supporting characters, the show essentially feels like a two-hander. Packed with buttock-clenching tension, acutely observed family dynamics and even, despite the hearty laughs, a subtle poignancy that lingers long after the final curtain, it's as resonant today as it was in 1980.
 
 
Theatreguide London
by Gerald Berkowitz
 
Like all his best plays, Sam Shepard's drama is about brothers, about fathers and sons, about the American past and about the American myth.
 
It is also frequently very funny and occasionally harrowing in its emotional nakedness. And Phillip Breen's new production at the Tricycle captures just about all of this. 
 
Austin is a Hollywood screenwriter working feverishly on an original script that will be his big break when his black sheep brother Lee, a petty thief and desert rat, appears out of nowhere. 
 
Figuring that writing has to be a whole lot easier than breaking and entering, Lee tosses out an idea for a film in the hearing of Austin's producer, who is so enamoured of it that he wants Austin to drop his own project and collaborate with his brother. 
 
That's where a lot of the play's comedy and satire comes, in the parody producer and in Austin's frustration and frantic attempts at revenge. The fact that Lee's scenario is a western, and in some ways the ultimate western, nothing but an extended chase scene, brings in one of Sam Shepard's favourite themes and metaphors, the idealised American past as a contrast to the actual present. 
 
Which is the true West, the myth of cowboys and Indians that may never have existed or the Hollywood fiction factory that does? Stories that reverberate even if they've become clichés, or Identikit cities and neighbourhoods you don't recognise when you return to them? 
 
Shepard is not an intellectual writer, and these questions are not stated openly as Shaw or David Hare might present them. Instead, he sets his play in an anonymous modern house on the edge of the desert, and inserts a comic anecdote about the brothers' father that whispers things about a lost past.
 
And in the play's final moments he creates a chilling theatrical metaphor as the myth comes alive and absorbs the reality within it. 
 
Phillip Breen's production takes its time warming up, giving some of the early exchanges between the brothers the pause-filled sense of the unspoken more characteristic of Pinter than Shepard, but that atmosphere is not inappropriate, and helps give a solid realism to the characters. 
 
Eugene O'Hare lets us sense from the start that there's something missing in the seemingly successful Austin. At first we – and he – may think it's hunger for success, but O'Hare lets us come to see that there is something in his brother's wildness that he envies, tries to emulate and begs to have shared with him. 
 
Alex Ferns gives Lee all the menace you could ask for, along with a quality I haven't seen other actors bring to the role. His Lee may be street smart and sharp-witted within his areas of criminal expertise, but Ferns shows that any new thoughts take a while on their way into or out of his brain. This adds a refreshing comic touch without reducing the character's danger or his half-symbolic power as an outlaw. 
 
Steven Elliot is allowed to make the Hollywood producer a bit too much of a cartoon, and Barbara Rafferty has little to do in a brief appearance. 
 
The success of the play, comic and dramatic, lies in the playwright's extraordinary myth-making powers and in the two strong central performances.
 
 
The Upcoming

by Genevieve Akindele
 
Sam Shepard’s True West (1980) has been performed in New York, San Francisco and the UK by the cream of the theatre crop. Under the direction of Phillip Breen it has finally found its bearings on stage at the Tricycle Theatre.
 
After almost 25 years in existence and starring roles given to the likes of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly and Dennis Quaid, the revival of this American tale tells of unresolved family rifts invading the existence of two contrary brothers.
 
Blinds open to reveal the startling brightness of the blue, green and beige shades of Max Jones’ set: a painfully organised 80s suburban home complete with a flowered bread bin and linoleum.
 
This is a house of order and logic, the perfect meeting place for disarray borne through the ill-fated role-reversal of siblings Austin, a Hollywood screenwriter, and Lee, a desert-dwelling dog fighter.
 
Austin’s comfort comes from his imagination and his writing. In the dining room decorated like a jungle clearing, he guards his mother’s plants and waters them like an obsessive participant of the Chelsea Flower Show. Lee’s performance begins with him standing in the kitchen on the lookout and on edge, much like the dogs he owned in the Mojave Desert.
 
There is a nervous tension highlighted by prolonged silences. The anxieties of Alex Ferns’ prim and proper character leaves us supportive of the introduction of Valium. In contrast, the filth of Lee’s attire almost warrants an Ebola-style Hazmat suit for the audience. Eugene O’Hare’s interpretation of Lee is as intense and unfaltering as the desert in which he has made his home.
 
The positive and negatives of American culture is a theme that runs throughout. Austin’s “period piece” gets scrapped for Lee’s new-age western film. This decision is based on a bet; no doubt a two-fingered gesture towards the fickle nature of Hollywood.
 
The catalyst for the stability-turned-savagery? A script. We learn, “there is a difference between a movie and a film” apparently, “the French make films and the Americans should be left to make movies”. Judging by Shepard’s production, they also make captivating plays.
 
 
Reviews Gate
by Carole Woddis
 
They don’t come much raunchier than this, not sexually raunchy but physically. Take two brothers, poles apart in their lives and outlook on life, put them together in a house on the borders of the Mexican desert in the early 1980s, stir briskly by writer with a steady ear for the pregnant pause and a sense of the mythic and loss and you get True West, written 1980 by Sam Shepard, himself now something of an icon of a fast disappearing US of A.
 
Shepard has given us a string of modern American classics in the past 30 years (Tooth of Crime, Buried Child, Fool for Love), tales from the edge that both feed on America’s sense of itself, especially the frontier myth and then attempts to destroy it.
 
In True West, it’s Hollywood under the microscope as a frontier land of bull-shitters and risk-takers as Austin and Lee, two siblings slug it out, eye-ball to eye-ball like two gun-slingers at the OK Corral – Austin, the steady one, a lucrative screenplay deal within his grasp, thwarted by the sudden appearance of big, baggy Lee, a drifter and hobo.
 
Shepard’s way with dialogue manages to maintain our interest continually by sheer virtue of his sense of character and situation, the dynamics between the pair of hostility and vulnerability swinging first one way then another in two volcanic performances by Alex Ferns and Eugene O’Hare. Beckett, Pinter, Mamet and even Strasberg’s `method’ all seem to merge in Phillip Breen’s production, first staged at the Glasgow Citz last year – though the thin programme gives us no hint as to its original provenance or the actors’ biogs.
 
A shame because this is one hell of an evening, in a fantastic set by Max Jones suggesting southern Californian Mexico land with its low slung ceilings and plaster pink walls gradually reduced to a totemic mess of toasters and domestic debris as the brothers go into melt-down and their mother appears at the doorway of her house, agape, to engineer a coda full of implications of America as a place of constant change and emotional and spiritual rootlessness.
 
 
Kieran J Knowles

 
The programming currently within Off-West End and Fringe Theatre, this year has proven to be quite successful and the current production that is presently amusing people at Tricycle Theatre, True West was one that has been portrayed with such integrity with shocking elements as well. True West, originally written by Sam Shepard in 1980 portrays the mammoth differences between two brothers, who give the impression that they need to regularly quarrel with each other to show who is the harder sibling. 
 
The play is set in Southern California where ambitious television and film writer, Austin, who is is caring for his mothers’ house whilst she's on holiday is frustrated with his older brother, Lee arrives, after being on one of his adventures appears to endeavour to undermine Austin’s aspirations. From the outset, Lee is an unsavoury character who thieves other people’s possessions due to the fact that his life is hardly thrusting, whereas Austin’s recent project, a romance script has received positive conversations with a producer, where they hope it will inevitably be realised within a studio atmosphere. Unluckily for Austin during a meeting with Saul Kimmer, the producer, Lee rudely interrupts them and instigates a dastardly concept of a Western film idea, which comprehends Saul’s interest with Austin's work to diminish vastly. The production sympathises with the youngest brother, and when he completes a challenge to steal the local residences toasters to show to Lee that he can be prosperous with how he lives is superbly comical, and the array of toasted bread and chaos that is increased throughout the performance was somewhat outrageous. Shepard’s narrative [is] exceedingly fluid and amazingly engaging as we witness the rivalry between brothers who have such opposing personalities, and how their prospects changes in ways that one found unfair. 
 
The performances by the company were admirably brilliant throughout. Eugene O'Hare is ideal as the hopeful scriptwriter, Austin who engrosses his repugnance when his brother is creating a mockery of his art, and his drunken moments were executed with such magnitude. Alex Ferns is grand as the unpleasant, Lee. I did become slightly scared with the violent rage that he exposes when he is confronted about his journeys across the American desert, with a negative expression. Steven Elliott is marvellous as the traitorous producer, Saul. He suggested how spiteful the entertainment industry can be with such effect and precision. Philip Breen's direction is excellent here as he has staged a revival that can turn and audience’s reaction from laughter to sheer shock. Furthermore, I found that he apprehended the fraught environment of brotherly relationships with tenacity and ease. 
 
Max Jones’ set and costume designs are spectacular, as the atmosphere of South Californian home works wonders entirely and the destruction which is progressed through each scene transitions were particularly thrilling. I commiserate with the whole Stage Management team, especially after each performance. Overall, the experience of True West was incredibly enjoyable and entertaining, and well worth a ticket purchase.
 
 
Auditorium

by Rowan Munro
 
Who’d bring a golf club to a gunfight?Sam Shepard, that’s who. His True Westtakes two classic Californian icons – Hollywood and the Badlands – and holes them up together like mangy outlaws. The resulting production by Phillip Breen gives us one heck of a shoot-out, and my do the bullets fly.
 
Max Jones’ easy-on-the-eye design offers perspective as pleasantly skewed as the characters’ sensibilities. The small, split space of a retirement bungalow cleverly preempts the protagonists – one half-wild with plants, the other gleamingly dull. But the fridge door isn’t far from being torn off its hinges. Tina MacHugh’s lighting complements the play superbly, transforming one single set-up from writers’ sanctuary to hellish booze-den and everything in between.
 
The leads of the play – and they are hardly ever offstage – are brothers Austin and Lee. Austin is an (almost) established screenwriter, typing up a tricky romantic period piece at his mother’s California home whilst she’s away in Alaska. But there’s a catch, one that any wordsmith with visiting relatives can identify with – his drifter brother Lee has rocked up. From the get-go their relationship provides the simmering haze of a volatile backdrop. Yet the sinister undertones of Lee’s meanderings in the desert isn’t the only thing Austin has to worry about. Lee has a film idea all of his own, and, thanks to gate-crashing a meeting with Austin’s producer, he gets a chance to pitch it. Before we know it Austin’s the one slugging whiskey and contemplating larceny while Lee’s crouching over the typewriter with all the comic confusion of a primate with an iPad.
 
It’s the characteristics of the brothers that raise the temperature to sweltering proportions. Bookish Austin is a cross between Elmer Fudd and Barton Fink, a man conspicuously apathetic about returning to his wife yet savagely defensive of his work. His brother Lee is more like Wolverine spliced with a homeless minotaur, roaming the stage in a long stained coat with a darkness that subverts even the blackly funny text. Yet all the while he retains a childish wonder, marveling at his skill at golf or his dreams of the big screen.
 
In much theatre the choreography is obliviously obvious. Lights change, actors straighten, and into the interpretive dance they go. But here Breen and the actors hit a real bull’s-eye by grafting in succulent moments of physical suspension. Torsos swivel, fingers are drawn, keys are plucked with masterful economy – each moment incorporating a witty tableau of famous Westerns. It’s as if John Wayne has sauntered into a K-hole, and it’s a sensational directorial choice. This theme, the self-aware cowboy, gourmandizes itself brilliantly in potentially one of the greatest Western reviews ever – Lee’s description of a man’s irregular affection for his horse inLonely Are The Brave. Hollywood is toyed with adroitly, and on the difference between a film and a movie we learn: “In our business it’s makingmovies. American movies. Leave thefilms to the French.”
 
The locomotive pace of the piece barely lags; neither does the billowing emotion ever become too maudlin. Eugene O’Hare’s Austin not only rustles up a singing voice worthy of any campfire, but is often hypnotic, particularly with a tale about his father’s false teeth. Yet it is Alex Ferns as Lee who is quickest on the draw; and his draw is spellbinding. His eye gleams like a sixpence spun in the sun, his raging stamina delights while his rasping, somehow delicate voice terrorises. 
 
Towards the play’s end the brothers try to re-write a clichéd line for their new screenplay. “I know this prairie like the back of my hand” is amended to “I am on intimate terms with this prairie.” It’s a dead-on example of that near-invisible line between what is unique dialogue and what is utter bull. Thankfully there’s no such line in this production. Shepard’s poetry snags us with the most effortless of tosses, before hogtying us and leaving us as willing captives on the tracks. 
 
 



 

 Photo © Pete Le May
 

 Eugene O'Hare. Photo © Pete Le May
  

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
  

 Photo © Pete Le May
 

Alex Ferns. Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

 Photo © Pete Le May
 

 Photo © Pete Le May
 

  Photo © Pete Le May
 

Steven Elliot and Alex Ferns. Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Barbara Rafferty. Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Phillip Breen
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 

Photo © Pete Le May
 
 
 


 
 

 


  
 


 
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