Monday, 24 April 2017

Review Nuclear War


Nuclear War
by Simon Stephens

The Waste Land
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

Let's put aside the play text  introduction by playwright Simon Stephens to the twelve pages of the Nuclear War script - quite why he wants to set himself up as a paragon for playwrights who knows how to work with a director and actors while he says others, by  implication, don't, we know not.

Suffice to say, he sets out a working methodology which doesn't feel particularly original to us. But at the same time we may have whetted your appetite to buy or borrow the play text to find out what the hell we're talking about.

And if you go to Nuclear War expecting bombs and confrontation between world powers, you may be disappointed. For, as Simon Stephens has correctly pointed out on his twitter feed, you're more likely to get that in real life. But "Guys. it's a metaphor."

Yet we must concede that Nuclear War is kinda interesting in a world where we are increasingly bombarded through technology with disembodied voices. And our own individual, as well as Britain's, place in the world, feels constantly in flux and increasingly indefinable.

Ostensibly, this is play about the loss of a loved one and  a day in the life on the seventh anniversary of time spent at a hospital bedside. A day atomized into moments filtered through the mind of an unnamed woman,"All I can hear/Are the thoughts scratched onto the inside of my head".

The room is bare, the props stark (designer Chloe Lamford). The audience is seated around the walls, so that when we hear the words, "I can't help feeling you're in my room ... Watching me.", one immediately sees the faces of others in the audience watching.

The voice comes through in a pre-recorded narration by an unnamed Scottish woman played by Maureen Beattie who sometimes breaks into "live" speech varying the mixture of textures. 

Also watching are a four-strong chorus - Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Gerrome Miller, Andrew Sheridan, Beatrice Scirroccchi. They whisper, they chant, they sing. They are like living furniture handing the woman, for instance, a cup or a biscuit.

They weave shapes and populate the mundane scenes of city life on a train, in a coffee shop and more fantastical underworld-type scenes where they mutate into black hooded prisoners or hounds like creatures out of Greek mythology.

A red heater also glows with red bars and the woman mounts a large black box amplifier, with trailing cables, at one point. She builds a shrine of bricks lit by an old fashioned fringed table lamp with a china cat and discarded flowery porcelain tea cups nearby, all seemingly from another era.

The USP (unique selling point) of Nuclear War is supposedly that the playwright is letting the director Imogen Knight, who is also a choreographer and movement director, and the actors to use the text in whatever order they choose and to bring choreography as an extra layer of meaning.

In the end, the process doesn't make much difference to the audience watching this brief piece, however much it makes a difference for those involved.  At 45 minutes, there is no danger of the piece outstaying its welcome and it does have a visceral quality with washes of red, yellow and blue light from lighting designer Lee Curran.

There are cryptic moments. For example when the chorus puts stockings bank robbery style over their heads and stuff mandarins into their mouths. But there is a story there and at one point Andrew Sheridan with headphones round his neck becomes the embodiment of the lost love.

TLT is not the only reviewer to have thought of TS Eliot in connection with the text - we saw it the day after press night.

The choreography of the chorus clad all in black does meld with atomized environment of the woman, the never being able to turn the clock  back in the striking image of grains of sand never able to fly back together after sandcastles are knocked down. And we feel the momentum of the city, no longer a whole but filled with new people and elements, always pushing forward, never looking back.

This all has an intuitive quality but we certainly won't pretend this is a piece that will suit all tastes. However it does also have an affective, sometimes threatening, sometimes poignant lyrical quality on every level and it's an amber light for the depiction of a world losing its nucleus and disappearing into darkness and movement.

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