Caryl Churchill's play DRUNK ENOUGH TO SAY I LOVE YOU? commented by Michael Billington

Posted by Claudia Moser on 5:05 PM

Caryl Churchill's new play certainly puts an original spin on the "special relationship". Its brilliant conceit is to use a male love affair as a metaphor for the tortured submissiveness of Britain to America over foreign policy. While I applaud the play's intentions, it is almost too ingeniously elliptical to ram home its arguments.

Churchill presents us with two guys sitting on a sofa: Sam (as in Uncle) and Jack (as in Union). They might even be Bush and Blair. And what is startling is the sexualisation of politics. The two men coitally bond over military diplomacy, regime change, rigged elections, biological warfare and much else. But Sam demands a "total commitment" that Jack, who has left his family for his lover, cannot give. And Jack's nagging qualms finally surface over carbon emissions, which, it is implied, may put an end to the affair.

I love the idea of the play. And Churchill pursues her premise with rigorous emotional logic. Jack constantly harps on the sacrifices he has made to be with Sam, with domestic ties neatly symbolising party principles. Sam, for his part, is bullish, dominating and unyielding. It is genuinely funny to see the way a dispute about trade tariffs is played out as a lovers' tiff, with Sam defending himself against charges of bad faith by saying: "Come on, we've done debt cancellation here."

Like Pinter in his political plays, Churchill nails American double-think and manipulation of language. However, while the two men, like intimate partners, complete each other's sentences, the compacted speech sometimes leaves arguments hanging in the air. It's a short, 50-minute play that you almost need to hear twice, or read, to get the full force of Churchill's accusations. And it is significant that only when Sam gets a rare, uninterrupted speech about torture practices do you feel the weight of Churchill's moral rage.

The piece is skilfully staged by James Macdonald, with the sofa rising ever higher as the two men increasingly lose contact with reality. Ty Burrell's Sam has a wonderful thrusting aggressiveness as he argues that democracy doesn't always work out as hoped - "So now we need to prevent some elections." And Stephen Dillane's Blairite Jack has exactly the right mix of capitulation and lurking conscience. Having dealt in the past with the politics of sex, Churchill here puts the sexuality of politics centre stage.

P.S. Wish I was in London now ...



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