Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Red, Black and Ignorant

Edward Bond
Cock Tavern Theatre
(2010)

Red, Black and Ignorant peoduction photo

A bandaged, bleeding man, clothing patched and face smeared by smoke and dirt, faces the audience. He seems to be a survivor from an annihilating holocaust and indeed begins to talk about rockets in the sky. A woman tells how, pregnant, she expelled the baby from her womb into the fires of her blazing home. Staged at the Royal Court in 1984 and, apart from a French language production on the Edinburgh Fringe, never again seen in Britain until this revival, it was saying what a dreadful world we were creating for our children and that message is till valid.

The language is powerful but my spirits sagged. How long would Bond subject us to full-frontal lecturing? Fortunately briefly, and his introduction is succeeded by a series of short scenes, each announced with spoken titles: Learning, Love, Eating, Selling, Work, The Army, No one can willingly give up the name of human and Funeral. They are announced by that blighted man as being scenes from the life he never had. Bond calls him Monster, though he seems a caring humane individual, and he would appear to be that baby burned at birth.

In fact we are still being lectured. It is as though we are presented with a series of animated lantern slides or a dramatised PowerPoint presentation, but these are powerful scenes of great simplicity by a writer with a strong sense of theatre. Whether they take place after the rockets fall or show developments leading up to Armageddon I am not sure but they are certainly an x-ray of our own world. The poet Bond is evident in his gift for imagery: that burning foetus is echoed in a picture of a scorched squirrel leaping through broken glass into a burning room. We are destroying the natural world not just ourselves.

It is a short play, just over an hour long, and Bond leaves his audience to provide its own whys for the brutalisation of society into this world driven by fear, unemployment and the need for self-preservation.

An abstract set by Vanda Butkovic and Julia Berndt gives a neutral abstract background and Maja Milatovic-Ovadia's production leaves it to the actors to play the lines, free of concepts but also free of elucidation. There is confusion as to which of the characters we should identify with the Monster, Is he.the ones the same actor plays or the boy we see growing up?

At least there were not the distractions of the white box with doors used for plays earlier in this season and the minimal furniture removals between episodes did not interrupt the smooth flow of the play..

There is very honest playing from Andrew Lewis as the 'Monster', Melanie Ramsay as the Mother of the introduction and the mother in the later scenes, Martha Dancy as a schoolgirl and a woman trapped under a fallen building, Russell Anthony as a succession of slightly sinister authority figures and Alex Farrow as a schoolboy we see become an unemployed young man and then a soldier. In what is the most effective of these scenes dramatically, the soldier, who has a Brechtian song 'I Am the Army', seems to have lost his soul but in a perverse way clings on to his humanity when faced with a choice that echoes that of the African in The Under Room seen here last month.

Run ends 13th November 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton