The Letter of Last Resort / Good With People
Double bill of short dramas that push the nuclear button
This article is from 2012.
As the independence referendum draws nearer, with Trident shaping up as a particularly thorny feature of the debate around Scotland’s future, a revival of these two short works by two of Scotland’s leading playwrights offers keen, if contrasting, takes on the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
David Greig’s piece opens with the new-minted British Prime Minister (Belinda Lang) attempting a letter of condolence to the mother of a 17-year-old soldier killed in active service. It’s an agonising process, but, as her mandarin, John (Simon Chandler) points out, there’s an even more urgent letter to be written, giving instructions to commanders of the nuclear arsenal in the event of a fatal attack by the Chinese.
To retaliate or not to retaliate? As PM and civil servant embark on a tortuous role-play exploring the options, Greig neatly skewers the utter absurdity of the nuclear deterrent in barely a few lines of dialogue. When a bewildered Lang exclaims, ‘This is like an episode of Yes Minister!’ she’s rather unnecessarily hammering home Greig’s point about the ludicrousness of decision-making at that level of government.
In contrast to Greig’s short sharp political satire, David Harrower’s Good with People depicts a charged personal encounter between between Blythe Duff’s hotel manager and a nurse (Richard Rankin) returning to his native Helensburgh from Pakistan. Duff’s Helen recognises young Evan Bold as one of the boys who brutally bullied her son. But, as one of the ostracised ‘Faslane kids’ whose father worked at the nuclear base, Evan has been nurturing his own sense of grievance over the past 12 years.
While the initially hostile encounter eases towards a tentative understanding, Harrower weightlessly packs in ideas about the ways in which we become trapped by our personal history.
While deeply different in tone and style, it’s fun to draw a line between the events in Greig’s and Harrower’s works, the latter a kind of answer to the conundrum posed by the former.
Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 26 Aug (not 13, 20), times vary, £17–£19 (£12–£14).