Theatre-goers already know that there’s more to Matt Smith than Doctor Who. He is a mesmerising stage actor and perhaps all the more so for the chances he has taken on new writing. From the codependent son of an alcoholic in Polly Stenham’s That Face to the sharp-suited serial killer in American Psycho, he has a record of choosing well and creating something memorable.
At first, though, his slightly muted performance in Anthony Neilson’s new play, Unreachable, confuses. As Maxim, an obsessive film-maker who is waiting for that fleeting moment of perfect light to complete his latest masterpiece, he sighs and stares, all moody and misunderstood. The action builds around him, as his producer (determined Amanda Drewe) tries to cajole him to get on with the film and his brilliant leading lady, Natasha (Tamara Lawrance), remains resolutely immune to the rarefied atmosphere around her.
It’s all about acting and performance, it turns out. But when a notoriously troublesome star, Ivan (hilarious Jonjo O’Neill), is drafted in deliberately to slow down the production so that Maxim can wait for his light, the thundering Slav not only takes over the film but the play, too. He strides around declaiming and bear-hugging, and delivers some of the best speeches, getting some of the biggest belly laughs in return.
Unfortunately, this it the point where Unreachable tips into panto, for some to love but which others will hate. Suddenly, Smith’s more subtle interpretation makes a whole lot of sense.
Unreachable is at the Royal Court until 6th August