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[God of Hell review]


The Herald, 2 November 2005

By Carole Woddis

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It would be easy to slam Sam Shepard's latest as a work of crude polemic. The agenda is clear anti (Bush) establishment and its particular brand of patriotism, peddled much as a salesman might a new cookie and harbouring nefarious forms of intimidation and torture under its wing. And all dressed up as a barely disguised metaphor of a docile Midwest Wisconsin farmer and his wife, Frank and Emma, who learn the hard way about the system under which they are living.

There is a magnificent line towards the end. Ben Daniels's terrifying hit-man, Welch, has cajoled Frank (Stuart McQuarrie) into selling his heifers - "He lived for them," Lesley Sharp's doe-eyed Emma informs us - and turns to patriotic obedience, keeping in step (key phrase) with a brutalised friend, Haynes (Ewen Bremner) who has taken shelter in Frank and Emma's basement (a searing image this, the two pounding the air, heads thrown back like two animals to the slaughter).

Welch rounds on Emma with: "What did you expect? You didn't think you were going to get a free ride on the back of democracy for ever, did you? Sooner or later the price has to be paid."

The sharpest of warnings, Shepard's realism always comes soaked in a certain surreal excess. The God of Hell, premiered in New York last year, is no exception. Suffused with Pinter-like unanswered questions and menace, we never really learn why Haynes has been tortured (touching him sends sparks flying; he's contaminated with radiation and plutonium, the god of hell).

But Jonathan Fenson's farm-house interior epitomises conformity, Ben Daniels is mesmerising as the butcher patriot while Bremner looks every inch the flayed victim. Kathy Burke gives it venomous truth.



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