The New World Order
Barbican BITE Shoreditch Town Hall
Hydrocracker's The New World Order is a highly ambitious endeavour. It amalgamates what the company calls five of Harold Pinter's most political plays: One for the Road, The New World Order, Precisely, Mountain Language and Press Conference. It brings them to life in a promenade, site-specific production set in a former town hall. It imposes a wider political and ethical issue of the relationship between current governments and torture, with particular reference to MI5's outsourcing of torture and the inherent problematic of the government's strategies of obtaining classified or otherwise inaccessible information.
Hydrocracker's production is not without its powerful moments. It is characterized by some strong acting, particularly from Richard Hahlo as the Prisoner who has to convey a whole dramaturgy entirely through physicality, and Hugh Ross as the totalitarian and highly threatening Minister for Cultural Integrity, who manages to articulate even the most problematic of lines. The audience are, for most part, managed without major flaws. At the entrance to the town hall, we receive visitor badges that introduce us as active voyeurs into an unfolding narrative, travelling from the top down - the most ornate meeting rooms, the high end of bureaucracy, to the depths of the hall's basement and the truths it hides.
If the production falls more than short of its ambitions, it is not solely because it is attempting to streamline a number of Pinter plays that have no obvious connection apart from the loosely thematic, or whose potential links infringe their very particularity, and hence potency. It falls short of its ambitions because it naively simplifies a problematic without a clear position or an openness to question the ethical implications of its symptoms. In attempting to give the production the weight of reality by staging it in a former governmental building, it contradicts its very aims, yet brings forward a highly potent question on how to approach such amalgamations, and what makes rigorous and powerful political theatre.
The problem rests with the crafted narrative and the journey we embark on. Despite directorial attempts that suggest otherwise, we are offered little to invest in the narrative discourse unfolding around us. We are introduced to a totalitarian society with its values laid out openly; we witness an unfolding drama with no surprising outcomes, because we have so little insight into the power struggles in front of us. From the onset, the Prisoner is a vague portrait of the activist intellectual caught by the system, and the Minister a dangerous man with a skill for rhetoric.
Hydrocracker have framed four of the plays within the wider narrative of The New World Order, and it theory, even if the production presents a problematic narrative arch, the proximity and reality of the spaces of Shoreditch Town Hall and the moments it houses should be enough to convey the fear and tension of this overt totalitarianism, easily referenced to the contemporary political sphere. Yet little is made of this proximity; the audience have no agency in the story, therefore no tension to be part of. We're asked questions, but our answers don't make a difference. Characters rarely speak to us, and when they do, it's never threatening. So what to make of this journey if there is no way in?
Hydroacracker's ambition has to be commended - it is a failed risk, but a journey still worth taking that has potent moments and theatrical nuance. After all, these are five plays written at different times in Pinter's career, some for specific occasions - like Precisely, written for an evening curated by the peace movement in the early eighties - others are miniature works, like One for the Road, initially a half an hour play about torture. They are clearly of highly ranging quality, but if their apparent connection is thematic, their mechanics are divergent.
Yet in the end, the most problematic element of Hydrocracker's The New World Order is not its treatment of text; no text is sacrosanct and cannot be altered, edited or imposed on. It is the lack of tension and consequence in the politics of the story. This is a mechanised production with a seemingly uninformed position and a lack of argument on a highly debated subject. Its lack of specificity feels like a naive response to what some of these plays offer in their theatrical argument. It doesn't do justice to its medium, content or context, but fluctuates between the three with some theatrical scope.
"The New World Order" runs until 11th December
Reviewer: Diana Damian