A new play by Caryl Churchill is a genuine cultural event. The author of such acclaimed plays as Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Cloud Nine and Top Girls, is one of the most distinctive, intelligent and (both artistically and politically) radical playwrights of her generation.
From revolution in 17th century England to the relationship between women and Thatcherism, she has proved, time and again, that she can bring unexpected and refreshing perspectives to political subjects.
One of the greatest attractions of her work has been that it took us beyond the clear lines and straight arguments of political debate. She has held a distorted mirror up to our world, in order that we could view it from entirely new angles.
It is a great shame, therefore, that her latest piece, Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?, turns its back on the fascinating aesthetics and sophisticated politics of much of her previous work.
Running to a slender 40 minutes, the play finds a US man (Sam) on a sofa with an Englishman (Jack) – clearly representing Uncle Sam and Union Jack, their very names offer a warning of the heavily rhetorical script to come.
Jack agrees, with astonishing alacrity, to abandon his family for a love affair with Sam – the British man will do anything the American wants.
As their sofa slowly ascends into the darkness of their room (a remarkable piece of stage and lighting design by Eugene Lee and Peter Mumford), the two men intersperse their (usually cynical and triumphalist) discussion of US global dominance with talk of their affair.
For the most part, Jack provides Sam with a helping hand, either in justifying past acts of US imperialism or in planning future activities.
Occasionally, however, the British character has doubts and twinges of conscience – but he’s brought to heel quickly when Sam threatens to sour their relations.
Churchill has the characters (who are played beautifully by Ty Burrell and Stephen Dillane) speak in a stilted, fragmented dialogue. This is soon overwhelmed by the surprisingly simplistic catalogue of facts about US foreign policy and the global crisis.
Most people on the left will find themselves in agreement with the political implications of what is a barely ironised polemic, rather than a genuine play.
Personally, however, if I want my political prejudices confirmed for me, I don’t have to go to the theatre. I have comrades and friends I can call for that.
Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?
Written by Caryl Churchill
Royal Court, London
until 22 December