Review: Rare Earth Mettle Is A Thing Of Cruel Beauty, Full Of Delicious And Heart-Stopping Twists

Rare Earth Mettle, Royal Court ★★★★☆

Review: Rare Earth Mettle Is A Thing Of Cruel Beauty, Full Of Delicious And Heart-Stopping Twists Rare Earth Mettle, Royal Court 4
Rare Earth Mettle is a thing of cruel beauty, full of memorable lines and delicious and heart-stopping twists. Image: Helen Murray

Commensurate with a plot that is practically ripped from the headlines, Al Smith's Rare Earth Mettle has generated its own news stories days before opening, when it was caught in accusations of anti-semitism and forced to make a late change.

The Covid-19 crisis has also affected the play; it was still in rehearsal when the pandemic shuttered theatres across London and only the two leads — Arthur Darvill and Genevieve O'Reilly — were retained from that original cast. Both are superb here — their dynamic making this dazzling play a thing of cruel beauty, full of memorable lines and delicious and heart-stopping twists.

Characters conspire with and against each other to take control of the "white gold" aka lithium. Image: Helen Murray

Much of the action takes place on a Bolivian salt flat beneath which lies an abundance of the precious mineral lithium (hence the title's weak pun). Darvil's Henry Finn is an American industrialist and inventor who wants to use the metal to power a new fleet of electric vehicles while O'Reilly's Anna Carter wants to give the UK a mental health boost by putting lithium into the water supply. Caught between them are Kimsi Apaza, the sole adult resident of the flat, and the ambitious local leader Nayra Quispe. All four conspire with and against each other to take control of the "white gold" and their shifting loyalties and sly machinations make for a thrilling and often hilarious watch.

Smith's story does more than nod to very modern predicaments: as well as bemoaning the physical and mental effects of a pandemic and the environmental impact of mining, the final twist points directly at the impact of Brexit on international trade. The script is laden with zingers from the knowingly corny ("mankind must end oil before oil ends mankind") to the cynical ("getting cancer was the best thing (Steve Jobs) ever did").

The script is laden with zingers. Image: Helen Murray

Although at times wordy, the three hour-plus running time (with an interval) barely wastes a beat as it bounces around the globe to explore contemporary issues and the concerns of the overly moneyed, for example, when Finn brutally skewers society's neophilic tendencies with a line that could have been uttered by any billionaire , especially one with their own space-bound penis extension: "You don’t tell an American to turn off their light; you build them a better light bulb."

The Royal Court has serious form when it comes to being the launching point for plays heading to the West End and it will be no surprise to see Rare Earth Mettle following that trajectory.

Rare Earth Mettle, Royal Court, Sloane Square. Until 18 December. £12-£45

Last Updated 17 November 2021