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Theatre review: Against

Magnetic: Ben Whishaw plays a visionary who talks to victims of violence PICTURE:  JOHAN PERSSON



Almeida Theatre, London

IF THE rumours are true that Ben Whishaw’s Q will return in the next 007 film, it will be met with almost as much relief as news that Daniel Craig is staying as Bond.

Whishaw has a rare charisma that can be as vulnerable as it is steely. In Christopher Shinn’s American state-of-the-union play he deploys it to mesmerising effect as Luke, an Elon Musk-alike visionary driven by a belief that God commanded him to ‘go where there is violence’ in order to stop it.

It’s a mission that takes him to the family home of a Columbine-style killer, a university campus and a prison. The hope is to find the ‘why’ that lies behind murder, rape and other violence. And as news of his work spreads, so does hope among disillusioned believers in God that Whishaw’s Luke is a modern-day prophet at least, or at most, the Messiah.

In the scenes where Luke encounters victims of violence, Whishaw is magnetic when in listening mode. He generates an aura of empathy that is as vivid as a saint’s halo.

This is a play about which it is easy to be cynical because its heart is ultimately as idealistic as its hero’s. It also implicates its audience as being complicit in the world’s problems by casting a rapacious, Amazon-like online company (it’s called Equator and instead of a smile the logo looks more like a downturned mouth) as an example of unfettered capitalism.

But the play’s arguments here are seriously wanting. Even if, with Whishaw centre stage, the play’s heart is in the right place.