Dying City

Mon 4th – Sat 9th August 2014


Gender Trouble

at 09:52 on 9th Aug 2014



M13 Theatre's production of Cristopher Shinn's 'Dying City' follows the story of Kelly, who's lost her husband Craig in the Iraq war. A year later Craig's identical twin Peter unexpectedly turns up, revealing infomation about his brother to Kelly.

Whilst the production succeeded in giving a voice to what domestic life must have been like during the war, it was ultimately let down by the way it was both written and directed. Not only was it unclear when the multi-rolling between Peter and Craig began, but the play presented questions to the audience that it never really answers.

Take Craig's feelings towards the homophobia he is frequently confronted with. His presentation as a gay character came across in a offensively two dimensional way, making him appear to be more of a caricature ("Just plain tea. I'm watching my fig-urrrre") rather than a character with whom one could identify on any emotional level. This was a shame, as the relationship between Craig and Kelly was an interesting one, and dialogue about the way he emotionally copes with homophobia could have proved interesting.

The production was also let down by it's acting. The two actors clearly didn't feel comfortable with each other, and this was most obvious when they kissed on the sofa - a scene that was evidently under-rehearsed. Equally unconvincing was the way Kelly punched Craig towards the end of the play, which reminded one of the worst excesses of Anne Hathaway's performance in 'One Day'.

The one redeeming quality of the play was its portrayal of Kelly's loneliness. However, whilst this was touching, it was also a theme that manifested itself in really quite cliched ways: the poised watching of the TV alone on the sofa, the reading of messages from Craig.

Sadly the performance failed to convince in its exploration of themes that had the potential to be interesting.


Sarah Gilbert

at 10:40 on 9th Aug 2014



A series of flashbacks and direct revelations, Christopher Shinn’s ‘Dying City’ not so much tells as ‘progressively lays bare’, the story of twins Craig and Peter and Craig’s wife Kelly. Craig has died fighting in the Iraq War. The characters navigate tricky issues of truth and honesty, to the point of realising that attempting to understand a person – a point of view – may ultimately break them.

Directly alluding to O’Neill’s eminent ‘Long Days Journey Into Night’, ‘Dying City’, though perhaps not so metaphorical as O’Neill’s, is a play of intimate discovery. A web of colliding conceptions in the increasingly frustrating process of re-evaluation, secrets are steadily revealed in self-defeating attempts at honesty between the characters as they are simultaneously revealed to the audience. What makes this piece different to O’Neill’s, though, is the application of this essential structure to a wider context of the Iraq war. The play expands into a political dimension, with the characters' relationships developing and revealing themselves through political discussion.

The script-writing and ideas are the play’s main assets. On occasion the acting converges upon flatness, though his may perhaps be put down to an awkward set and layout of the stage. The actor’s find themselves painfully limited by the arrangement of the living room, which detracts from the performance in their attempts at convincingly navigating an unrealistic set.

One might interpret the use of one actor to play identical twins as an effective device, structuring the pair at odds with one another and contributing to the increasing sense of something being hidden. Unfortunately, however, I don't find the transitions between characters entirely credible.Their being ‘identical twins’ ultimately comes across as an artificial attempt to narrow the cast to two actors.

This in mind, the essential piece itself remained both thoughtful and intricate, asking of the audience ‘should we allow ourselves to feel what others feel, and to what extent should we allow this to impose upon ourselves?’ Peter’s anecdote about misinterpreting ‘A Farewell to Arms’ as being about a double amputee stands as a subtle allegory for the play’s central quandary. People see things differently. The process of grief is never simply mourning; it demands the perpetual weaving of one’s own web of ‘truth’, out of the fundamentally unknown. Despite a few undeniable issues, ‘Dying City’ is overall deserving of commendation.


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