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Web of deceit is so small world’

PUBLISHED: 09:40 28 January 2010 | UPDATED: 17:32 25 August 2010

THE concept that we are only six connections away from a perfect stranger claims to have sparked many an imagination, writes Kate Mead. The small world phenomenon, has become such a part of our social psyche that they have become folklore with the Six De

THE concept that we are only six connections away from a perfect stranger claims to have sparked many an imagination, writes Kate Mead.

The small world phenomenon, has become such a part of our social psyche that they have become folklore with the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a game that connects all Hollywood actors with the star.

On one hand, this 'human web' theory can be both comforting and horrifying in equal measure by highlighting that we are all the same yet as indistinct as the next person.

In John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, now showing at the Old Vic, this concept is used as the backbone of a satire on the fickle impermanence of social status.

Art dealing couple Ouisa (Lesley Manville) and Flan Kittredge (Anthony Head) are schmoozing South African Geoffrey (Ian Redford) in their Manhattan apartment in the hope he will part with $2 million for a Cézanne to sell it on to the Japanese.

Midway through the operation, an injured Paul (Obi Abili) bursts in apparently stabbed by muggers in Central Park.

This interruption nearly puts paid to their deal but moments later Paul, who claims he knows their Harvard kids and is the son of Sidney Poitier, charms them so that they soon offer him a bed to stay the night.

Predictably, Paul does not turn out to be the person he says he is and soon a web of deceit is woven amidst the wealthy New York couple's family and friends.

As they try to unpick the connections, their own elite existence becomes claustrophobic and vulnerable.

And as the scale of Paul's conning becomes clear, so his behaviour shines an uncomfortable light on their own untruths.

The play, which was made into a film starring Will Smith in 1993, uses comedy to poke fun at the mercenary world the Kittredges have cultivated.

Using direct speech to the audience, David Grindley's production is droll but it feels more farce than satire.

And as they follow Paul's trail, via their unbelievably exaggerated spoilt children, there seems to ensue an almost Benny Hill style chase to the conclusion that makes it almost impossible to care who is connected to who and why.

It is not the fault of the Old Vic's production - the entire cast were more than adept in both characterisation and energy.

It is instead that the play feels so dated and out of touch with the 21st century that I found myself struggling to find a reason why Old Vic's producers deemed it necessary to dust this one off.

Although entertaining, the play lacks any substance that connects with today's culture and it would really be a con to suggest otherwise.

l Six Degrees of Separation is at the Old Vic until April 3. Tickets are from £10 to £47 and are available by calling 0844 871 7628 or online at www.oldvictheatre.com.

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