The Young Vic’s staging of Zinnie Harris’ Further Than the Furthest Thing successfully captures what life is probably like on a remote island by being exhaustingly slow and uneventful. The return of a young man to the island from the outside world should open up an interesting plot around a cultural divide between a small community and wider society (perhaps reminiscent of Outlying Islands), but instead it drifts off into dry character arcs and a subplot around industrialisation.
It’s because in addition to turning up himself, young chap Francis (Archie Madekwe) has brought along factory boss and amateur magician Mr Hansen (Gerald Kyd) with him, who seems to stumble between a slightly French and standard English accent. Like Kyd, he’s South African, and perhaps it was the poor projection – even to just four rows of stalls in the round – but the accent sounds weirdly inconsistent throughout. I can’t connect to his character, and neither do Mill (Jenna Russell) or Bill (Cyril Nri), who find the unexpected arrival to quite the disruption to their otherwise quiet lifestyle.
Alongside their bland, rhyming names, the couple are unremarkable and underwhelming as individual characters. From his dip in the ocean at the very start of the play (which, in fairness, is creatively imagined by director Jennifer Tang, movement director Ingrid Mackinnon, designer Soutra Gilmour and video designer Ian William Galloway) to his factory job in act two, Bill is disturbed by a range of things in his environment which – to him – seem a bit off. As the mental strain of this distress worsens, it becomes increasingly clear that we are, at some point, due an explosive response later in the production. That doesn’t happen, and his alternative fate is an annoying anticlimax.
Mill, sadly, is no different. She’s handed a few five to 10 minute monologues which lack any particular substance or detail to them – one is, in fact, just about food shortages on the island she was forced to leave in the time which elapsed between the first and second act. Russell’s character is also prone to repeating herself constantly, and is keen to remind us who Francis is at almost every available opportunity – despite Madekwe’s character being nothing more than an instigator or supporter of Mr Hansen’s actions (he becomes the man’s secretary when we see everyone work in his factory back in England in the second act).
Mr Hansen isn’t exactly the big bad capitalist here, though, especially because there’s little action which encourages us to hold him in contempt. Important votes at meetings about island matters sound ripe for drama and conflict, yet neither Harris nor McKinnon choose to explore this at any point. The only real tension offered in Further Than the Furthest Thing is an act of infanticide involving Bill and Rebecca (Kirsty Rider) just before the interval. The fact no other character has a compelling character arc demonstrates both a lack of a main protagonist and – in the absence of that – a strong collective.
A handful of elements in this production use the minuscule to hint at something big which never comes. The aforementioned subplot with Bill is one example, but another in its staging is the use of a slow revolve throughout, slowly building up pace by the play’s conclusion. Again, we are led to believe there is one big crescendo – live, operatic vocals from Shapla Shalique certainly add to that implication – but there is no dizzying speed to the revolve by the end, or any change in urgency in Tang’s direction.
A lot of what held my very limited interest in this production was a potential breakdown from Bill (and how this would be performed by Nri), and Galloway’s colourful and creative video design, giving credence to the environmental elements surrounding the endless dialogue. Equally, a metallic, futuristic factory set from Gilmour in the second act taps into the wider, minor motif of circles, and that life goes on. It’s just not the most compelling or profound message to take away from a 155-minute production which could do with going a whole lot faster, for starters.
Further Than the Furthest Thing is now playing at the Young Vic Theatre until 29 April.
British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted, socially distanced, audio described and captioned performances are scheduled to take place on 31 March, 4 April, 11 April and 13 April respectively.
Two relaxed performances will take place on 5 and 8 April.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Further Than the Furthest Thing’ for free in exchange for a review of the production as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.