Play by Sam Shepard. In Southern California, Austin is working on a movie script that he has sold to producer Saul Kimmer when his drifter brother Lee stumbles back in to his life. Never content to watch from the sidelines Lee pitches his own idea to Kimmer, an action which then has far reaching consequences... as brother is pitted against brother, exposing the cracks in the American Dream.
Sam Shepard's other plays include Buried Child which was last seen in the West End at the Trafalgar Studios in 2016 starring Ed Harris, Jeremy Irvine, Amy Madigan and Charlotte Hope; and Fool for Love which was last seen in the West End at the Apollo Theatre in 2006 starring Juliette Lewis and Martin Henderson.
Original London Production National Theatre 1981
Previewed 2 December 1981, Opened 10 December 1981, Closed 31 May 1982 in repertory at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre
The cast featured Bob Hoskins as 'Lee' and Antony Sher as 'Austin' with Shane Rimmer as 'Saul Kimmer' and Patricia Hayes as 'Mom'.
Directed by John Schlesinger with designs by Grant Hicks, lighting by Rory Dempster and sound by Chris Jordan.
London Revival Donmar Warehouse 1994
Previewed 9 November 1994, Opened 10 November 1994, Closed 3 December 1994 at the Donmar Warehouse
The cast featured Mark Rylance and Michael Rudko as 'Austin'/'Lee' (alternated roles) with David Henry as 'Saul Kimmer' and Marcia Warren as 'Mom'. Directed by Matthew Warchus with music by Claire Van Kampen.
On the official 'Opening Night' Mark Rylance played 'Lee' and Michael Rudko played the role of 'Austin'. This production transferred to London following a season the month earlier at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
"In this excellent production by Matthew Warchus of Sam Shepard's True West, Mark Rylance and the American actor Michael Rudko are alternating as the two brothers: Austin, an uptight, clean-cut Ivy League screenwriter who is house-sitting for their mother in southern California; and Lee, a lager-slurping, filthy, semi-literate vagrant and house thief who has been out in the desert and who returns, as the quintessential brother-from-hell, to put his disgusting feet on the kitchen table and a canny finger on his sibling's insecurities... At the Donmar press night, Mark Rylance played Lee in an account of the part that is a miracle of comic timing, understated menace and deranged, loopily self-defeating violence. What makes it both very funny and highly unnerving is the rhythm he gives to the perfomance, constantly making you think that this bedraggled figure, with his nagging drawl and his high, thin, derisive cackle, has either mentally taken his eye off the ball or physically lost all semblance of composure... I saw Rudko play Lee (frankly, the more gratifying of the roles) at the press night at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where the production originated. They bring an intriguingly different physical presence to the part (Rudko comes over as a skinny, balding bird with a corncrake, whiny drawl and burningly fatigued eyes) that subtly alters the dynamic of the relationship... The production is a treat, whichever way round the roles are played - or at least a treat for those of us who haven't got to clear up, each night, the trashed set." The Independent
"There is a nice logic in Mark Rylance and Michael Rudko's decision to alternate the parts of the two brothers in this mostly admirable revival of Sam Shepard's sharpest play, Benedict Nightingale writes. After all, each character envies the other for having qualities he himself lacks. Add them together, and you might have a complete person, instead of two frustrated half-men, doomed to stay resentfully apart... You can see Shepard's not-so-funny point. As he himself once put it, 'we're split in a more devastating way than psychology can reveal. It's not some little thing we can get over. It's something we've got to live with.'" The Times
"What once seemed a mechanistic play about role-reversal now seems a mythic study of fraternal division. We are in a kempt, orderly southern California suburb. Austin is holed up in his mother's kitchen trying to work on a Hollywood screenplay. His nomadic older brother Lee, ragged and dirty after three months in the Mojave desert, arrives to disrupt this cosy retreat. At first Lee is content with petty burglary. Gradually he forces Austin to type up his own movie scenario - a contrived, old-fashioned western - which he manages to sell to his brother's producer. While Lee vainly strives to take on the role of a Hollywood hack, Austin turns to drink, dare-devil theft and a yearning for the solitude of the desert. In outline, it sounds dryly schematic. What makes the play so rich is Shepard's profound understanding of the spiritual incompleteness of each brother and, by extension, of the American experience. Austin represents controlled urban man who yearns for a return to natural self-reliance. Lee, driven into the desert by harsh necessity rather than a philosophic dream, equally pines for suburban security. The producer, who wants them to work together, thinks they're the same person: Shepard's point, however, is that each is a partial, incomplete being steeped in a romantic dream of the other's existence. Warchus's production acknowledges this point by alternating the casting. On the first night we saw Mark Rylance as the violent, threatening Lee and Michael Rudko as the initially temperate Austin and each was magnificent." The Guardian
True West in London at the Donmar Warehouse previewed from 9 November 1994, opened on 10 November 1994 and closed on 3 December 1994
London Revival Tricycle Theatre 2014
Previewed 4 September 2014, Opened 9 September 2014, Closed 4 October 2014
The cast featured Alex Ferns as 'Lee' and Eugene O'Hare as 'Austin', with Steven Elliot as 'Saul Kimmer' and Barbara Rafferty as 'Mom'.
Directed by Phillip Breen with designs by Max Jones, lighting by Tina McHugh and music and sound by Andrea J Cox.
This was a transfer from the Glasgow's Citizen Theatre where this production - featuring Alex Ferns and Eugene O'Hare in the two lead roles - was presented in October 2013.
Original West End London Production Vaudeville 2018
Previewed 23 November 2018, Opened 4 December 2018, Closed 16 February 2019 at the Vaudeville Theatre
The West End Premiere of Sam Shepard's 1980 play True West in London starring Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn for a strictly limited three month season
The cast features Kit Harington as 'Austin' and Johnny Flynn as 'Lee', with Donald Sage Mackay as 'Saul Kimmer' and Madeleine Potter as 'Mom'. Directed by Matthew Dunster with sets by Jon Bausor, costumes by Jon Bausor, lighting by Joshua Carr, music by Johnny Flynn and sound by Ian Dickinson.
When this production opened here at the Vaudeville Theatre in December 2018, Ann Treneman in the Times highlighted that "the director Matthew Dunster delights in the tension between the two brothers at war... This production of what has been called Shepard's most accessible play is good but not as excellent as it could be... everything really hinges on the sibling rivalry (and revelry) and that sometimes feels forced. It's almost there but, infuriatingly, not quite." Paul Taylor in the i newspaper commented that "Johnny Flynn is comic perfection - his attempts at intimidation more unsettling for having a mocking edge and a faint undercurrent of insecurity... I've seen more menacing accounts of this play, but here you get an engaging dose of its visceral elation." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard explained that "It's a great vehicle for actors, and the bankable duo in Matthew Dunster's revival are Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn... crucially, whether bickering about art or madly wielding golf clubs, the leads spark off each other, often to hair-raising effect." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times said "it's a nicely conceived, sharply executed vision of the play. In the end, though, it falls at the unavoidable fence which lies across so much of Shepard's most characteristic work: Europeans will always look at the American West from the outside, never feel it as a common archetype at our collective core." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph thought that the two lead stars are "almost a dream team. What's hugely frustrating is that they're hobbled by the show's remediable deficiencies... If the evening needs to look more rock'n'roll, less like a roughed-up version of The Odd Couple, there's still enough to savour for the initiated and uninitiated alike." Neil Norman in the Daily Express complained that "Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn are not remotely credible as brothers and are far better actors than their performances here suggest. Director Matthew Dunster seems to have lost his touch and... some good lines aside, this is a real mess." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail wrote: "Kit Harington’s character turns from law-abiding dweeb into drunken petty criminal... That he makes the transformation believable is more down to his impressive acting than to the script... Little of the plot is believable. Johnny Flynn towers above Harington physically but the two actors are well matched in their commitment... but the two lead actors deserve a stronger play than this suffocating, unsatisfying tale."
Kit Harington's previous West End theatre credit was playing the title role in Jamie Lloyd's revival of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2016. Johnny Flynn's London theatre credits include the role of 'Mooney' in Matthew Dunster's production of Martin McDonagh's play Hangmen at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2015; the role of 'Lady Anne Neville' in Tim Carroll's 'all-male' revival of Shakespeare's Richard III at the Apollo Theatre in 2012; and the role of 'Viola' in Tim Carroll's 'all-male' revival of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Apollo Theatre in 2012.
"The two lead parts, the battling brothers Austin and Lee, are taken by Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn respectively — and they have enormous fun with them, which makes it immensely entertaining to watch... There's a steady amount of comedy and drama as the two brothers, crammed into their mother's house while she's away in Alaska, battle it out. Decades of familial tension and sibling rivalry bubble to the surface and erupt, until finally Lee lets it be known that he, too, has written a script — and it sounds utterly terrible, the nearest Sam Shepard comes here to a satire on the movie business... It's a moderately amusing play, but it really isn't a great one, and it's questionable whether it's worth this well-crafted new production by Matthew Dunster. But it is, to repeat, a terrific actors' play, and watching Harington and Flynn at work is a real pleasure. Just don't expect the story to grab you." The Sunday Times
"Boy, do Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn kick up some dust in Sam Shepard's True West. Game of Thrones hunk Harington is almost unrecognisable as uptight Austin, working on a film script he's sold to a hotshot producer. His feral brother Lee - a menacing Johnny Flynn - stumbles back into his life, beer bottle in hand, and hits up the producer with his own ideas for a Western. It marks the beginning of the end, as the siblings tear each other apart, punch by weary punch, word by cutting word. It's seductive, sad, and surprisingly funny. A quietly powerful play about the myth of the American dream, True West is the perfect vehicle for two talented actors to bounce off each other - and this pair certainly bring out the big guns." The Sunday Mirror
"Kit Harington plays Austin, a struggling Hollywood screenwriter. He is house sitting his mother's Californian apartment and is on the verge of a breakthrough, if his meeting with a producer goes well. But both house and meeting are crashed by his burglar brother Lee, played by Johnny Flynn, who Austin hasn't seen in five years. It is hard to imagine they came from the same womb, especially with the chalk and cheese casting of Matthew Dunster's terrifically performed production... Much of the tension here comes from the violence that Lee seems on the constant verge of unleashing on his brother. But the surprise is just how funny Shepard can be... The plot twist here also explores what talent may actually look like - and in this production, it turns out it may not be the cultured diligence of Harington's Austin, but the fiery, impetuous danger of Flynn's angry Lee." The Metro
True West in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 23 November 2018, opened on 4 December 2018 and closed on 16 February 2019