At the risk of spoiling the plot, I can tell you that there is no ritual slaughter in this play. Gorge Mastromas is alive at the end. And though his name is spelt Gorge, it's pronounced George. That's just two of the many weird things about Dennis Kelly's play that leave me puzzled.
How can an experienced and talented writer, who penned the script for the hit musical Matilda (which I haven't seen) produce a play that, at least on the surface, is so badly written? I qualify that judgment because there are lots of great works in theatre which break the normal rules of playwriting and still grab the audience by the guts. I don't think this is one of them. Kelly's play is over-written (it lasts two and three quarter hours) and by the end I was getting bored and looking at my watch.
Sooner or later anyone who gets advice on how to write a play will hear the immortal phrase 'show, don't tell'. In other words, avoid narrative and put the action on stage. Kelly starts off with half an hour of narration by the cast before the action gets going, telling us in pointless detail about the protagonist's rather ordinary life as a child. There's a place for a Greek chorus to comment on the action, but here the chorus seems to be a substitute for the action. In the first piece of action we get to see, young Gorge/Goerge, wearing an ill-fitting suit, is a bit-player in a ruthless corporate takeover. The scales fall from his eyes, and he realises that goodness and cowardice are just the same thing. His ruthless lying turns him into a rich tycoon (we skip this bit of the story) and we next meet him in a hotel bedroom, apparently on the edge of a suicidal breakdown, with Louisa, the woman he loves. There's a convoluted backstory, narrated, about the fact that she's a victim of child abuse. In the second act, we're told (again through narration) that Gorge/George has invented his own story of being abused by his father, and turned it into a best-selling book. He's challenged by his long-lost brother. The response by Gorge/George is ruthless. Louisa leaves him. Finally, as an old man, he's challenged inconclusively by a long-lost grandson. That's basically it.
I don't want to blame any of the actors for the fact that I didn't enjoy the play. Tom Brooke, playing Gorge/George, is an excellent actor whose moon-faced charm and saucer eyes are perfect in the early scenes. But he's a bit miscast as a ruthless tycoon. The real problem is that the role is a theoretical construct, not a real character. The secondary characters, paradoxically, are more convincing, particularly Pippa Haywood as the ruthless businesswoman. But there's little or no subtext for the actors to play with, and the longwinded speeches are full of padding. It sounds like a first draft, though it clearly is nothing of the kind, as the play has already been staged in Germany, where it was commissioned. (I'm tempted to say something rude about audience-unfriendly German theatre at this point, but will resist the temptation).
It's a disappointing start to the tenure of director Vicky Featherstone as the new artistic boss of the Royal Court. At the performance I attended the theatre was half empty, and the applause was fairly perfunctory. No doubt things will get better.
But I'm still puzzled by the fact that the play's flaws seem to be deliberate, not accidental. The Harvard cultural critic Svetlana Boym has invented the term 'off-modern' for works that explore 'the side-alleys and lateral potentialities of the project of critical modernity'. I'm not totally sure I understand what she means by this pretentious guff, but if the term applies to anything, it's this play.