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REVIEW: Kyoto, Swan Theatre, Stratford, until 13th July, FOUR STARS ****





Peter Sellers slipped on a banana skin or something getting out of a car outside an Indian restaurant in the Kings Road. Hardly front pages news, granted. But he twisted his ankle so badly that he had to surrender a role in Stanley Kubrick’s cold war satire Dr. Strangleove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Sellers was already playing three characters but the fourth that he was pencilled in for, that of Major ‘King’ Kong, was now out of the question.

Kyoto
Kyoto

The part called for a Texan cowboy-type so Kubrick reached out to John Wayne who shunned him. Then Dan Blocker - Hoss in Bonanza - but he didn’t care for the cut of the movie’s political jib. So, Kubrick settled on Louis Burton Lindley Jr., a bit part player and rodeo rider who laboured under the soubriquet Slim Pickens.

Pickens had never travelled outside the USA but he moseyed on down to the courthouse, got himself a passport, made the journey to England and nailed the movie’s most iconic image - Kong riding on the back of the atomic bomb as it dropped to do its devastating business. Pickens just played it straight, as himself, was never given a script beyond his brief few lines, had no idea what exactly he was engaged in and, when his part was done, left without a clue about what the film was about or what its outcome would be.

Kyoto. Photos: Manuel Harlan
Kyoto. Photos: Manuel Harlan

You can call me Slim. Kyoto may seem quite a far throw from the hysterical daftness of Strangelove but the two works are apocalyptic kin; both harbingers of global destruction, and, just like Pickens, I swaggered into the Swan oblivious to what was about to unfold and left two-and-a-half hours later still in the dark - as we all are - about what will happen next. But we’ll come to all that. First it should be explained that Kyoto, co-written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson and precisely co-directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, is a fictionalised reconstruction of the long series of fledgling climate change conferences which were held around the globe in the early 1990s, culminating in Kyoto, Japan where every country represented was called upon to commit to a prescribed reduction in carbon emissions.

Kyoto. Photos: Manuel Harlan
Kyoto. Photos: Manuel Harlan

It’s set in an impressively massive boardroom around a round table and our mentor through all these machinations is an American lawyer called Don Pearlman, lately in the employ of President Reagan, who has been covertly employed by a shady bunch of characters in grey who we come to assume are movers and shakers from OPEC, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries They, for many reasons, mostly monetary, need to ensure the conferences never achieve their goals. Don’s job is, by hook, crook and any other means necessary, to disrupt the proceedings, to discover and expose the many loopholes in the draft agreements, to spread enmity, confusion, jealousy and whatever else he can conjure up throughout the decades-worth of meetings so that nothing ever actually gets done.

Unlikely to alter the widely-held perception that lawyers are parasites on the unfortunate and afflicted lacking in all moral compass, Pearlman is played with chilling conviction by Stephen Kunken - a true supervillain for the age. We are shamefully seduced by his Machiavellian nous. He is a smooth operator, a smart cookie, explaining his strategy, territory by territory, then revealing the scenes of disarray he’s arranged. He’s smug but he’s savvy and we can’t help but admire the puppet master as he’s pulling the strings.



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