Last Updated on January 28, 2020 by Fiona Maclean
Enter the mind of Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy through Terry Johnson’s new production.
If you’re looking for a play to challenge both your intellect and your soul, step away from the musical fantasies of Shaftesbury Avenue and, take a seat at the fabulous new Boulevard Theatre in Walker’s Court Soho for The Sunset Limited.
On the tiny stage, two men sit locked in a debate in a shabby apartment block. The apartment’s owner is Black, an ex-convict turned born-again Christian-evangelist. He has brought home the atheist academic, White, having prevented him from committing suicide on the New York subway. Over the course of the play, their contrary views are batted to and fro across a kitchen table whilst Black seeks to “save” White from his deep despair.
We learn that Black has suffered personal tragedy and has a violent backstory, but having been “saved” by God he believes that everything happens for a reason as part of a grand plan. Black believes his next challenge is to prevent White from setting off into the sunset, permanently. Confident in his beliefs, he’s jovial and entertaining and refuses to unlock the apartment door, despite White’s insistence that he needs to move on. He draws White into conversation seeking to understand and refute the reasons behind White’s despair.
White responds with intellectual cynicism: “I don’t regard my state of mind as some pessimistic view of the world. I regard it as the world itself”. He is a misanthrope. He has no family or friends amongst his fellow academics and expresses his loathing for the people who ride the subway with him twice a day, five times per week. For him, Hell is other people. At one time his God was man. A humanist, a scholar, a lover of art and culture, White now despairs for man’s future: “Civilisation died in the chimneys of Dachau”. We learn little of his life, it seems he has already withdrawn from it.
The Sunset Limited was published in 2006, the same year as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and echoes its themes of purpose, existence and survival. The intimacy of the Boulevard Theatre coupled with the excellent set design and lighting ensure the audience’s attention remains totally focussed on the actors’ and McCarthy’s. Whilst the constant presence of the subway and occasional external neighbour-noise remind us that life continues elsewhere and will do so whatever the outcome of this debate.
For 95 minutes, The Sunset Limited will grip you. The dialogue is laced with dark humour and moral questions. Gary Beadle and Jasper Britton as Black and White are engrossing, delivering this “Novel in Dramatic Form” (the play’s subtitle), with emotional depth and integrity. It may challenge you to consider your own values and beliefs – be sure to take a friend as you may need a long discussion afterwards…
Photos credit: Marc Brenner and Helen Murray
The Sunset Limited is playing at the Boulevard Theatre until 29 February 2020.
Monday–Saturday at 19,30, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 14.30; the production lasts 95 minutes with no interval.
The Boulevard Theatre is at 6 Walker’s Court, Soho, London, W1F 0BT
We can heartily recommend the Boulevard Theatre Restaurant if you are looking for somewhere to eat before or after the show.
Also showing in London’s West End at the moment is a sterling production of Uncle Vanya – check our review.
Or if you fancy heading south, The Welkin at the National Theatre on the Southbank comes highly recommended