The Eleventh Capital

Alexandra Wood
Young Writers' Festival
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2007)

Alexandra Wood

The second play in the Royal Court's Young Writers Festival is made up of a series of postcards from dystopia. The world that Alexandra Wood has created will be familiar to fans of George Orwell or Harold Pinter but may be an outpost of our own.

The atmosphere of a chilling country that could be an invention might owe more than a little to Burma. It is effectively brought home to us by talented director, Natalie Abrahami, former winner of the James Menzies-Kitchin Award and newly appointed to take over from Thea (Equus) Sharrock as Joint Artistic Director at the Gate.

This hour-long promenade takes place in a dingy open space. It starts with two women chatting in a scrubby garden. It is only at the end of the play that we realise (or perhaps only suspect) that an odd day for a cleaner might have included her rape.

By that stage, though the plotting is far from linear or clear, this totalitarian state has bared its teeth to show inhabitants who fear transportation to the Royal City (formerly Fleeing Chicken!) and have to accept subjugation, if that is their destiny.

With just under 100 people packed into the small Upstairs space, sightlines can be almost non-existent so that the full impact of some scenes may pass one by. The stakes however, are raised for all early on, when Burmese army types corral the punters and drive them back against the side walls. This seems over-the-top but soon makes sense as coils of barbed wire are unrolled to pen in either audience or actors, depending on viewpoint.

Whether the six short scenes add up to something worthwhile might be debated. It is apparent that this is an unpleasant and potentially dangerous place to live in but how much interconnection there is between the various paired meetings is not too clear. The powerful do well, the underclass puts up with oppression and soldiers charge around keeping order.

The ensemble acting is led by the impressive Emil Marwa in two contrasting parts and the whole performance is enhanced by Keith Clouston's superbly edgy minimalist music.

The Eleventh Capital is initially intriguing and demonstrates an unusual theatrical voice but we probably need to see a couple more Alexandra Wood plays before fully getting her measure.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher