Sunday, 2 July 2017

Review The View From Nowhere

A playwright flags up his message too blatantly, says Francis Beckett, instead of allowing the implications of corporate cover-up to emerge from compelling drama.

The View From Nowhere
by Chuck Anderson

Test Tube Integrity

New playwriting needs the Park Theatre near Finsbury Park tube to continue airing theatrical experiences which might otherwise have stayed on their author’s computer hard drive.

Recalling my previous reviews on this blog, there's Jonathan Maitland’s Deny, Deny, Deny, about doping in sport, of which I wrote: “A very fine new play with a harsh contemporary feel.” 

I also predicted – and I stick to it – that the Park has made an important discovery in playwright and National Theatre book shop sales assistant, Michael Ross, after I saw his play Happy to Help.

But for a bold, radical theatre like the Park to succeed, it has to have the courage to fail sometimes. And this time, I’m afraid, it has.

Which is a shame, because The View from Nowhere comes from the same creative team that gave us the excellent Warehouse of Dreams, at The Lion And Unicorn, about refugee camps.

Th play starts out with the best of intentions.  It’s about a scientist who discovers the undesirable side effects of a chemical in which a big company has invested heavily and describes the ruthless methods by which it tries to discredit him and his work.

Good food for drama, this, and the author has done his research.  The trouble is that the play plods through the issues with all the dexterity of someone wading through treacle.

The scientist is black and has dreadlocks and he has a young, female assistant. I had a sinking feeling from the start when man from the chemical company – grey-suited, middle-aged, conventional – asks for Dr Washington.

He assumes the distinguished scientist could not possible be either of them – the one too young and too female, the other too black and too dreadlocked. And of course he cringes with embarrassment when he finds out that the black man is indeed Dr Washington.

Maybe twenty years ago that scene would have been worth doing. Now it’s too right-on, too virtuous for words and quite unbelievable. A chemical company executive would know something about a distinguished scientist he was about to visit.

I saw this scene coming and waited impatiently for playwright Chuck Anderson to get over proving his liberal credentials, so we could get on with the play.

Things do look up a bit after that.  There’s a decent plot (though not much of an ending) and the characters come over as real people.

There’s a good professional cast. In particular, Mensah Bediako makes an attractive and entertaining Dr Washington and Nina Toussaint-White a ruthless director of corporate affairs, Rona Worthing, with a touch of human decency.

The writer has taken the trouble to find out how the system works and how a big company can kill off uncomfortable truths.

These days, newspapers, as the director of corporate affairs says, will be delighted to accept a competently written article they do not have to pay for, especially if the same company is advertising, preferably in a sister paper. 

It’s also true, as one character tells us, that cash-strapped governments have outsourced environmental protection to the chemical industry.

The trouble is that nothing is left for us to work out; the lessons the writer wishes us to take away are carefully spelled out, to the point where I wondered if we were to be tested on them in the interval.

“Investigate his students” commands Ms Toussaint-White.  “Any hanky-panky going on there?”  Hanky panky, forsooth.

We’re told all these things, not shown them. And that makes The View From Nowhere, directed by Dan Phillips, a pamphlet on stage.  Quite a good pamphlet, but an amber light is the best I can do for it until it’s turned into a play

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