In its tongue in cheek, adventurous spirit and structure, the Low Road recalls The Princess Bride, but a picaresque tale that’s grounded in the mire of reality. It is Dominic Cooke’s final production as outgoing artistic director of the Royal Court and all the stops have been pulled out for a swashbuckling spectacle of a night.
The adventures are presented as chapters by our narrator Professor Smith, and follow the life and crimes of anti-hero Jim Trumpett, played by a suitably half raffish, half angelic Johnny Flynn. The time is mid 1700s America, and pistols, highway robberies and slavery are the order of the day. Trumpett starts off as a greedy baby, left on a doorstep to be brought up by a harassed Mrs Trumpett (Elizabeth Berrington). His greed is translated into a determined rake who will stop at nothing to make money. He runs a brothel, but keeps all his girls’ takings for himself and tricks nice people into making some dodgy bonds investments (in those days, bits of paper).
It’s rather nice to think about capitalism through the prism of this far more fun landscape. Because this is The Low Road’s very loosely worn, non-shove-it-down-your-throat agenda. In the second act we’re suddenly in the present day, watching smarmy and self satisfied CEOs and orange faced politicians (this is one of the funniest scenes) answering questions on our economic crises. ‘Is capitalism in its current form morally persuasive?’ suggests the only nice member of the panel, a retired mogul. We might ask, thinking of the previous historical scenes, was it ever moral? Jim’s complex investments that confuse his innocent, uncomprehending clients are not far away from banks ploughing money into dubious corners whilst the broader world is kept in the dark, until it all implodes. The Low Road asks us as an extension, if greed and capitalism – though repugnant – is not essential to success and survival.
But mostly, this is a play about enjoying the journey, where even deaths and victories are inconsequential and the laughs the main thing. The enduring message is the need to make money, and those that realise this will succeed the most. “For if you look very carefully, you’re sure to find a thief or two in the family tree of every millionaire,” concludes the Professor. No truer words said.
The Low Road runs at The Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, until 11 May (tickets £12-£28). Londonist saw the show on a complimentary review ticket.