We are living, I am told, in the age of ‘capitalist realism’: a phrase which, as the cultural theorist Mark Fisher deploys it, seeks to explain the all-pervasive cynicism which seems to permeate our culture today. It is the acceptance, post-Soviet Union, that a certain brand of free-market capitalism has defeated its political opposition, combined with the absence of any real hope of positive social change. It’s because we’re all fed up, we’re all going through the motions and, ultimately, we know we’re all doomed.
It is seemingly a political critique which speaks powerfully to playwright Dennis Kelly, whose new play, The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, opened Vicky Featherstone’s reign as creative director of the Royal Court theatre this week. Kelly’s play seeks to update Henrik Ibsen’s social satire Peer Gynt for that most cynical group of all, the Generation X-ers, who came of age during the End of History only to watch it all come undone post-crisis. In that regard, he has surely triumphed in creating a work which leaves you with a sense of soul-sapping pointlessness and with no obvious route out. Sadly, it’s one of the few achievements in what is a trying, and desperately uneven, production.
It’s a shame. Kelly has some real promise as a writer, having produced the witty sitcom Pulling and Channel 4’s unnerving comic book drama Utopia earlier this year, and possesses a sharp comedic eye. The cast is high-quality too: Tom Brooke, Pippa Haywood, Jonathan McGuinness, Joshua James and Alan Williams all give strong performances.