Lloyd Evans

Tom Cruise deserves our support and pity

Tom Cruise deserves our support and pity
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These are your lives.

Yard Theatre, until 4 October

Tom Cruise. That’s the big offer from a newish venue, the Yard Theatre, lurking on the fringes of Hackney Wick. The 80-seat space is located in an upwardly mobile sprawl of discarded warehouses and asset-stripped factories reinvented as artisan boozers. You can get there by train, cab or bike but the best people arrive by canoe. They tether their fibreglass tubs beside the Olympic Stadium and stroll along the canal overlooked by the knotted weirdness of the AcelorMittal Orbit which resembles a giant treble clef made of bubble gum. Inside, the venue is sensibly arranged in a horse-shoe configuration. The stage is roomy but intimate. The seating has been reclaimed from all kinds of sources: closed schools, bankrupt cinemas, torched cars, crashed airliners. I found myself on a cushioned banquette from an arcade video game.

The poster promises enticing goodies. ‘A verbatim script courtesy of Tom Cruise’ and ‘re-interpreted iconic film scenes’. Curtain up and we’re watching an English chat-show with an English host quizzing an English actor. I had a feeling Tom Cruise came from overseas. Our man on the witness stand is evidently not the chiselled proprietor of the Mission Impossible franchise but a bug-eyed cockney with round shoulders and a needy grin.

So it’s an allegory not a drama-doc. The script is intelligent and offers an artful analysis of celebrity’s downside, the tedium, the isolation, the repetition. The sense of opulent captivity in a millionaire’s sweatshop. The star spends all day giving identikit answers to identikit questions.

‘It’s a great time in my life … I just want to work with the people I want to work with ... You can work with someone and love someone and know it’s not right for you.’

Fawning wannabes surround him. Biddable play-mates importune him. At night, he retreats to a luxury cell and makes a foetal curl on a penitent’s shelf. His skull presses easelessly into a cube of black Styrofoam. The square hotel window displays scenes of gormless photographic beauty: meadows, lakes, sunsets, starry skies, more lakes, more meadows.

The production makes a huge and successful effort to deliver a very bizarre moral conclusion: that the most privileged creatures on earth deserve our support, our pity and our tears.

Having made this point the script dries up. Movement takes over. Plainchant fills the air. Choral warblings waft in from a flock of sopranos hidden in the wings. The thesps become mime artists and deliver lengthy robot sequences and slow-motion ballet routines which reveal nothing we haven’t already learned.

A strange swerve. The production notes reveal that the show is co-authored by English director Alexander Rennie and Belgian choreographer Tara d’Arquian. Their joint efforts feel like a sitting-room divided between warring flat-mates. That’s your bit, this is my bit. More Anglo-Belgian integration might help. And a fatter budget next time. It’s not as if money is short in Hackney Wick. The ale lounge next to the venue sells a pint of bitter for six quid.