Grimly powerful exploration of the consequences of war
This article is from 2008.
The dark poetics of Edward Bond have, with the exception of a couple of productions over the last year, been unjustly banished from the British stage, yet live on in the work of writers who have been influenced by him. One such writer is Zinnie Harris, whose stark reflections upon the battle fought for civilisation against the barbaric impulses created by late capitalism brings to mind Bond's brooding political epic.
We meet Kate (Geraldine Alexander), for whom a car accident sets off a chain of events which lead to the incarceration of a war criminal (Cliff Burnett) from her unknown state's troubled past. This brings about the loss of her husband and her unwilling entry into the debate about the fate of her country's tyrannical ruler. She becomes the inadvertent cohort of a new leader (Darrell D'Silva), whose Mandelson-like aide (Paul Hickey) urges a media-fuelled vengeance upon the tyrant, using both Kate and the new leader's wife (Meg Fraser) as unwitting instruments of violence.
Dominic Hill's production explores the violence inherent to the ideology of the new world order without losing touch with its personal cost for individuals. Relationships are shattered in favour of a rapacious compulsion for spectacle, here metaphorised in an impending execution. At times there's a rather 70s feminist feel to the piece, as women are ordered about, ignored, beaten and sexually assaulted with alarming casualness, while men get erections at the prospect of violence. It might be harder for a post-Thatcher Britain to buy into so purely male a source of civil disruption. So, too, the piece is a little static for its first 20 minutes.
For all that, though, there's a grim kind of power to it all, and Harris' facility for astute observations about the capacity of mighty political forces to bleed into our private lives creates some compelling moments. There are some terrific performances too, particularly from Alexander and Fraser as two women for whom all possibility of doing right is banished. The huge vision and ambition of this work make it necessary and important Festival viewing.
Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 24 Aug, times vary, £16–£18 (£11–£12).