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“Absolute Hell” is a eulogy for “third places”

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IN 1989 Ray Oldenburg, an American sociologist, explored the idea of the “third place”. Life, he argued, has always been experienced in one of three settings: the home, the workplace or a “third place” such as high streets, coffeehouses and pubs. These venues are neutral, largely free from the economic pressures of the office and the domestic pressures of the home. Mr Oldenburg considered these spaces to be the heart of the community and necessary to any healthy democracy: he worried that the suburbs emerging on the edges of American cities would lead to isolation and polarisation as people commuted by car, frequenting these places and interacting with their neighbours less.  

A third place is at the heart of “Absolute Hell”, Rodney Ackland’s play, a new production of which has recently started at the National Theatre in London. Hugh Marriner (Charles Edwards) is fighting—and losing—a war on two fronts. He is trying to rescue a dying writing career: a critic has eviscerated his short stories, and nobody seems to have…Continue reading

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