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While entirely unpredictable, as it unfolds, Keith? is totally recognisable, which is what makes it such a good piece of satire: it shows us who we are without us realising it.
The characters of Keith? are an array of the most predictable stereotypes you can possibly imagine: a conservative mother averse to gender-neutral toilets, an absent ultra-rich father on his way to redemption, a daughter dressed in an ever-so-millennial yellow jumper and a dungaree, a pious Muslim who studied Chemistry at Imperial College, a Brazilian cleaner full of self-entitlement. But in Keith?, everyone turns out to be everything and its very opposite, and fake news here becomes fake identities. At all levels, in all their Dionysian transformations (with Dionysus himself incidentally rocking up on stage), they are all exhilarating caricatures of our society.
Staged at the Arcola Theatre, this new play by Patrick Marmion is incredibly fresh and funny. It even features moulded bread (though sadly no jam) – can you get any more topical than that? Marmion attributes a certain inspiration to Molière, but I would trace the origins of Keith? even further back – to Shakespeare. From twin reunions to the star-crossed lovers, from seductions, plotting and misunderstandings, to the final monologue and even a final collective dance, there’s so much reminiscent of the bard that it makes the piece almost shine with the glory of literary tradition. This, of course, while remaining shamefully contemporary and not sparing a single trope of our time: climate change, sapiosexuality, Twitter, terrorism, the NHS, bitcoins, and (unescapably) Brexit. “You give me PTSD”, “I blame social media”, “Marriage is embarrassingly conservative” and “Sometimes relativism is relatively ok” – it’s all in there.
With dialogue being pure dynamite, the cast brings it to life without a single dull moment. Sara Powell is the explosive, quick-tempered mother Veena, Natalie Klamar is a brilliantly hysterical millennial daughter and Joseph Millson is hilarious in both his South-African and Serbian versions.
The surface of musing does hide a deeper message for the audience to take away. We’re all trying to control the mess in which we live. We’re all actually pretty lost, and desperately searching for meaning, but we just as desperately try not to make it too obvious. We’re also over-judgemental with other people, and rather prone to jump to conclusions based on our gut feelings and/or fake news. This fierce parody of our time is complemented by a deeper reflection upon it, which is what serious theatre should do – and Keith? does too.
The set design is pretty minimal, but the play is so bursting with content and personality that it doesn’t really matter. Plus, who needs furniture and décor when you’ve got a pole sliding down from a roof terrace on the third floor (“I laugh at three floors up”)?
Razor-sharp lines, utterly topical themes, incredibly funny delivery – you can’t really ask for more from contemporary comedy. Keith? is the most acute and factual lampoon of our times you can find at the moment out there – but only until 9th March