If you want to see a short, brilliant, savagely funny contemporary play, veering through a firestorm of sharp comic one-liners to a shudderingly powerful conclusion, then Steven Dick’s The Commission – this year’s winner of the Oran Mor/Channel 4 Comedy Drama Award – is the play you need to catch, this week at Oran Mor, or next week at the Traverse. The scene is a fashionable London gallery, where smart dealer Will is waiting for his tame – or excitingly untamed – Scottish artist, one Peter Harris. Harris is a grubby, hard-drinking, hard-swearing type who has been commissioned by the Ministry of Defence to go to Afghanistan and produce work based on the experience of British troops there; but it turns out that he has his own explosively conceptual idea about how to express his view of the war. For much of its length, The Commission mainly involves a series of brilliant jokes about the condition of life, politics, art and class in Coalition Britain; towards the end, it veers perilously close to dismissing the whole business of modern art as a con. Yet throughout, there’s a backbeat of seriousness, of energy, even of violence, in Stewart Porter’s superb performance as Harris, that suggests there is much more to this show than a mere joke at the expense of the modern art world. There’s also a genuine play about war, and the despair and rage it evokes in any sentient human being; and in the play’s final scene – after Russell Layton’s suave dealer and Selina Boyack’s jolly lady defence minister have left the scene – Pete Collins’s fine production gathers it all together, in a moment of magnificent tragic reflection.
The Scotsman
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