Tristan Bates Theatre
"[I]t is my intention that the play could be set or imagined in many times and places," states Palestinian/Irish playwright Hannah Khalil of her new play, Plan D, in the programme notes. To that end the script is stripped of cultural, geographical and historical specificities - but far from imbuing it with universal applicability, this filing-off of the serial numbers makes the play feel generic and immaterial.
The plot is one we've all seen before. An apparently stable and contented family is exposed, here by the unexpected arrival of a cousin from a neighbouring village, as a much more fragile edifice than it initially appears. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a partially recycled plot, especially when it's embedded in a refreshing new context, or accessorised with interesting peripheral events.
But in Plan D the context is deliberately obscured, with only Designer Paul Burgess's generically Middle Eastern costumes to hint at the Palestinian setting.
Equally, the campaign of terror against which the domestic plot unfolds never feels close enough to be a credible threat to the family's safety. They're driven from their home by an anonymous detonation we never hear. The cousin hints at atrocities committed against his own village, but they never materialise in this one. Sarah Weltman's soundscaping efficiently establishes a sense of place, but not of atmosphere: we never hear the wolves and wild boars the mother insists infest the wood.
Over and over the family tell us that they feel threatened and intimidated, and that the woods are a frightening place to be, but we never see, hear or experience the threat, which makes it difficult to believe the family is experiencing it either. Reported action is a valuable dramatic tool, but theatre is a primarily visual medium, and Plan D definitely tips over into telling, rather than showing.
Without context to colour it, the plot is left bare and unadorned, making it all the more noticeable that we've seen it done before. The plight of a single family becomes the focus, obscuring the bigger issue, that their experience is the experience of an entire culture, and that that experience still has yet to come to a conclusion.
Until Saturday 13 February
Reviewer: Matt Boothman