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Phil Willmott

Review: COMMON at the National Theatre

Common - National Theatre What an enticing prospect. Cush Jumbo and Anne-Marie Duff, young women who, in recent years, have firmly established themselves as two of the finest actors of their generation starring together in a big, new play on the massive Olivier Theatre stage; a venue which has frequently proved itself as the perfect crucible in which to examine our national identity.

The play's called Common and promised to explore exactly who owns this land of ours. It's by DC Moore, who's work I must confess I've never seen but who seems to have earned a string of awards and critical successes, and all this is directed by Jeremy Herrin, firmly established now as one of our finest interpreters of classics and new writing.

Even the poster looks enticing with Duff dressed as a sort of lady highwayman glaring jadedly at us from the middle of a field with a crow perched on her arm.

First impressions are really strong, the epic stage is dressed to resemble a vast and muddy field and silhouetted against the setting sun are fence posts and a style. The lights go down and dozens of extras dressed ominously in pagan ritual costumes advance slowly towards us then rip up the fence and burn it.

Suddenly we are aware of Duff's presence, vivid in a scarlet Georgian costume amidst all the ochre. She address us directly. Her language is strange, verbose and florid...

And from this point on I was completely lost as to what on earth was going on, as, for the next few hours, I fluctuated between being bored and irritated.

The production never stops being beautifully and evocatively designed with stunning work from the entire production team including a very convincing animatronic crow, a corpse clambering from a grave and a disembowelling.

The actors are probably very good too, they certainly seem very committed to the utterly bewildering plot expressed in pages and pages of gobbledygook.

If I were to take a stab at unraveling what it all meant I'd say Duff seems to be playing an evil spirit bringing chaos to Georgian agriculture at a time when the parcelling up of land and taking it out of common ownership was creating civil unrest.

Cush Jumbo seems to be playing her step sister with whom she perhaps had an incestuous relationship and who in turn may or may not be sleeping with her brother. There's at least three dead children in the mix and - oh, honestly you'll have to go and see it for yourself, perhaps you can make more sense of it than I could. But really, I wouldn't bother.

What a hugely disappointing waste of these actors' time and talent.