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A CurtainUp London London Review
This Is How It Goes

The truth is so elusive . . . . The minute you try to tell someone, it starts to slip away.
---- Man
This Is How It Goes
Idris Elba as Cody, Ben Chaplin as Man and Megan Dodds as Belinda
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
I remember reading John Fowles The French Lieutenant's Woman for the first time. Inside the back cover of the book a note from the publisher stressed that there were no pagination errors. This was because just as the reader was settling into the story, the author has the temerity to rewrite his own fictional account, to give his novel another possible ending, not just another explanation of events. The reader is jolted into a world where he is forced to acknowledge that this story the characters of which seem so real, is merely a fiction.

So it is with Neil Labute's very fine play This Is How It Goes which is being staged in the intimacy of London's tiny studio space, the Donmar Warehouse. The narrator stops quite early on to talk directly to the audience, taking us into his confidence. It is these events which raise the play out of the ordinary and make it a stimulating intellectual exercise, a sort of whodunit for the intelligentsia. Except that this "whodunit" has no neat solution. That is not to say that at one level This Is How It Goes isn't a skilled analysis of the breakdown of a marriage with definitive performances, but it is much much more, and contrives to push back the uncomfortable boundaries of awareness of our own prejudice.

No one escapes Labute's censure. The liberal and the racist are equally condemned for making events fit their own template of attitude. In this analysis of the dismantling of a marriage between a pretty white girl and a rich, successful, beautiful black athlete I found myself remembering some of the attitudes towards OJ Simpson case. Most white people assumed he was guilty of murdering his estranged wife Nicole and most black people thought him framed by a corrupt police force but the point is that no-one except OJ and his poor dead wife can be sure.

Has the play transferred well to London? I should say so! With Megan Dodds, Celia to Paltrow's Rosalind in the Berkshires and recently as Rachel Corrie at London's Royal Court, as Belinda, her performance is stellar. She is a sympathetic character, always looking vulnerable, slight and powerless to change her own marriage. Idris Elba as Cody, in his elegant navy blazer, is angry, arrogant, jealous, a bully, but the complaints he issues about his wife will be understood by some aggrieved and hard-working husbands. The narrator, Ben Chaplin is delightfully ambiguous as he plays with his own account diving between conversation with the audience and playing out scenes with Belinda and Cody. He fences words with Cody who still has the high school bullying power to hurt. This play is also about the narrator's journey to maturity, via his experiences as a fat boy who was the butt of everyone's jokes and who could only dream of dating girls like pretty cheerleader Belinda. He has used comedy to hide his real feelings and still does.

Moises Kaufman's direction is impeccable. Tim Hatley's set has some simple furniture and a backdrop of neon words, for example, "in the park", "at the mall", lit where the action is taking place. This is another gentle reminder that what we are watching is the playwright's script.

This Is How It Goes rates for me with great Labute plays like bash and The Shape of Things. I loved the digression, the introspection, the asides, the explanations. Don't miss an opportunity to see this intelligently tenacious production.

I wrote this review without reading Elyse Sommer's own review in New York and having now read it see the similarities. To read Elyse's review of This Is How It Goes in New York go here, This Is How It Goes

The Distance From Here (London & New York)
The Shape of Things(London and NYC)
The Shape of Things (Berkshires)
Fat Pig
This Is How It Goes (New York)

This Is How It Goes
Written by Neil Labute
Directed by Moises Kaufman

Starring: Ben Chaplin
With: Megan Dodds and Idris Elba
Design: Tim Hatley
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: One hour thirty minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6624
Booking at the Donmar Warehouse to 9th July 2005, then Bristol Old Vic 12th - 16th July, and The Lowry, Salford 19th - 23rd July.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st May performance at the Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street, London WC2 (Tube: Covent Garden)
London Theatre Walks

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©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer.
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