Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
In the darkened auditorium the audience faces a cloudy green illuminated cube Inside the cube, an androgynous crop-haired figure stands assertively in pilot’s uniform. Piercing frenetic rock music is playing at full volume.
In the next hour we come to understand this enclosed space as cockpit, home, office space, cell, fish tank, its thinly veiled facets are mirror, screen, camera lens, spy hole. But when the play begins white light reveals a crop-haired fighter-pilot in love with blue sky and physical action.
We are not just audience, but witnesses. As we watch the Major developing into a troubled self-reflective human being, we see that this is more than a tale of a woman struggling with the conflicting needs of her ambition and her equally strong need for emotional relationships with her husband and daughter.
George Brant’s play confronts questions about surveillance in modern life as well as in modern warfare. We think about the cost to the surveyors and the surveyed. Unmanned “drones” against distant human targets have changed the nature of war. The operators of these killing machines lead the safe humdrum lives of office-workers. As the Major points out, the Odyssey would have been a very different story if Odysseus had returned to his family every night.
This is an extraordinary tour de force by Lucy Ellinson. Her interpretation of the Major is never static: she constantly reveals new moods, nuances of feeling, conjures up the figures of her colleagues, husband and child. She holds the audience in thrall from the moment her glittering eyes meet theirs. We travel vicariously through her kaleidoscope of emotions: joy, pride, sensual excitement, affection, shame, guilt, protectiveness, fury, frustration, pity and helplessness. She moves in a dance of expressive stances, fully engrossed and engrossing.
The technical production is perfect. The muffled explosive sounds of distant death-strikes, subtle background environmental sounds, synchronised with lighting that marks transitions and emotional high points, are an integral part of this powerful production.
This is an important play for our time, about gender expectations but even more about the alienation of human action and feeling from its physical consequences. All kinds of screens are major players here, as in our real lives today.
If you can catch this remarkable play on its tour of the southeast, I’d strongly advise you to do so. The Gate Theatre's tour of the south east has two more dates left - Colchester Arts Centre tonight 26th November (01206 500900) and Oxford on 29th November (The North Wall 01865 319450). Their website is at http://www.gatetheatre.co.uk