Tag Archives: Marcello Cruz

“Rare Earth Mettle” at the Royal Court Theatre

Al Smith’s new play takes us to Bolivia, where tech tycoon Henry Finn and a doctor called Anna bid to mine valuable lithium. Know who your sympathies lie with? It turns out that the former’s electric cars could save the planet, while Anna’s public health project is an ethical nightmare. The dilemma is contrived – most of the plot is just to frame arguments – but the play and Smith’s characters are entertaining.

Arthur Darvill plays the parody of Elon Musk. It’s OK – it’s obvious as it’s well done. There’s a base gratification as clichés we expect are ticked off. Smith doesn’t have to be sensitive (could we feel sorry for this neuro-diverse character at some point?) and Darvill is wonderfully overblown. There’s help from a troupe of not-so-yes-men and women (including good performances from Marcello Cruz, Lesley Lemon and Racheal Ofori) just the right side of sycophancy.

Anna the NHS doctor (actually, Strategic Director of the National Institute for Health Research) is even better: a true frosty Brit with gorgeous elocution brought to the stage by Genevieve O’Reilly. With big plans, presented with frightening calm, bribery and blackmail are nothing to her. There’s a fanaticism that is fascinating. In a play that lacks surprises, I was hanging on to O’Reilly’s every word.

Rare Earth Mettle at the Royal Court credit Helen Murray
Arthur Darvill and Jaye Griffiths

Smith is understandably anxious to make sure Bolivians in the play have their say. There’s time in the spotlight for Kimsa, admirably played by Carlo Albán, who lives on the valuable salt flat. And a fictional president, portrayed with conviction as well as cheek by Jaye Griffiths. It turns out both are canny politicians. If crowd-pleasing moments are wish fulfilment, it creates a good atmosphere. And plenty of questions are raised – about history and inequality – that are obviously important.

Issues aren’t scarce in this play. Rare Earth Mettle has an excess of ideas that are far from exhausted. Again, Henry first: his creative notions (credited to his messianic streak) could be challenging if explored more. With the Bolivian characters, there are big questions about the interests of an individual versus their community (local and ultimately global). It’s with our doctor that examining themes of responsibility sit easiest – after all, life and death decisions are literally her job.

The play isn’t short. But nor is it long enough to say a lot, given how much ground it covers. Plot and argument become rushed and too far-fetched. Silly is fine (it’s funny), but predictable is not and too much of the second half can be seen coming at the interval. Hamish Pirie’s direction doesn’t help much – like Moi Tran’s design, it’s inappropriately fussy. I’m not sure what snatches of dancing or a giant pendulum add. But plenty of laughs and strong performances make this an enjoyable play.

Until 18 December 2021


Photos by Helen Murray

“The Wider Earth” at the Natural History Museum

Most peoples’ ideas about Charles Darwin, in part thanks to £10 notes, relate to an old, bearded figure of wisdom. The first clever move in this new play by David Morton is to focus on the younger Darwin – a far more approachable character – and tell the tale of his voyage on HMS Beagle when he was only 22. It’s an adventure story, if not quite swash-buckling, juggling excitement and information, aimed at those aged ten and up.

The story is supplemented with background debate on the subject of slavery and made weighty with a lot of discussion about Darwin and religion. Both topics are interesting and, of course, valid – but it makes that age guidance important. Some complicated arguments are laid out, and laid out well, but note that they are wordy and demanding. The “terrifying thought” of natural selection, again plotted competently, can’t carry much dramatic impact without the cultural context, and establishing a period feel could have been elaborated.

Hosting the show at the Natural History Museum, in a new, specially constructed theatre, makes for an appropriate setting rather than one the show actually uses: the production comes from Australia, via New York, and is clearly designed to travel. Morton, working alongside designer Aaron Barton, has a clever revolving set for his cast to climb around, and some excellent projections, making the production feel satisfyingly expensive. There’s a convincing sense of travel ­– appropriate to a story that circumnavigates the world – and, when the text allows, the action is swift.

Bradley Foster and Jack Parry-Jones

As a director, Morton runs a tight ship and the cast is strong. Led by Bradley Foster, who makes an endearing Darwin throughout, there are strong turns from Melissa Vaughan as his fiancée Emma Wedgwood and Andrew Bridgmont as his tutor, John Stevens Henslow, both of whom have to tackle some vaguely patronising dialogue, presumably aimed at making Darwin relatable. The most interesting roles go to Jack Parry-Jones, as Captain FitzRoy, who manages to inject a good deal of tension, and Marcello Cruz as a missionary returning to his home of Tierra del Fuego in a fictional subplot that threatens to overwhelm that show at one point. Darwin cuts a rather impassive figure in too many scenes. There’s a frustratingly slim sense of the man. But thankfully, the true emphasis in the show is on a sense of wonder, which Foster continually captures. His amazement and confusion at the natural world inject a sense of investigation that could shape many a future career. Alongside the charming creations of the Dead Puppet Society, Darwin’s encounters with animals have a sense of wide-eyed fascination that is contagious and inspiring.

Until 24 February 2019


Photos by Mark Douet