★★★ | The Sunset Limited, Boulevard Theatre, London

A middle-aged white male attempts to get on The Sunset Limited but is stopped by a middle-aged black man.

What is The Sunset Limited? It’s the name of a new play that has just opened at Soho’s fantastic Boulevard Theatre, and it’s also a euphemism for committing suicide.

The white man (English Actor Jasper Britton), is on his daily commute (as described by the actors) when, instead of wanting to go to work, he intentionally wants to jump in front of a subway train pulling into a strangely empty NYC subway station. But he is saved by the black man (an excellent Gary Beadle) who in turn takes him to his run-down apartment to discuss his motive for wanting to commit suicide.”

So the play (written by Cormac McCarthy in 2006) takes place in the black man’s apartment (the two leads are not assigned proper names). So for the next 95 minutes we get to learn a lot about both men. The white man is a professor, an atheist, really hates his father and mother, and has very bad thoughts about all of his fellow commuters – everyday he has had these bad thoughts – and has had them for the past 20 years. The black man is an ex-con who served time for a crime we are not told, he is very religious, and is now the guardian angel to the white man, trying, very determined, to understand why he wanted to end his life. The play also tries to explore the meaning of life and especially the lives of people who have to endure a commute back and forth to work every day. But it also raises questions on the question – are we living the lives we want to lead? And when the show is over, and the black man finally lets the white man leave, what happens next, not just to him but also to the rest of us – back to our daily grind tomorrow, one that we might find depressing, depressing enough to take the Sunset Limited?

Perhaps the white man is everyman – one who is sick and tired of his commute, of the people around him, of his life and of his relationships – just plain miserable as hell.

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Writer McCarthy wrote the brilliant ‘The Road’ (which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, and which was turned into the classic 2009 film), which had themes of suicide and doom, was a brilliant piece of work. The Sunset Limited, apart from very good acting (Beadle is superb) and very good direction (Terry Johnson), is just a bit too thin to really care about the characters (white man is still a mystery to me) and what happens to them next.

The Sunset Limited is now playing at Soho’s Boulevard Theatre until February 29th.

https://boulevardtheatre.co.uk