Shooting Rats

Peter Turrini and Willard Manus
Fanshen Theatre Company
Octagon Hall, Old Lilian Baylis School

Production photo

This is the British premier of the first play written by now well established Austrian dramatist Peter Turrini in 1967. Based on an idea from Willard Manus and written in Viennese dialect (the published text found it necessary to print a parallel German text to make it comprehensible to non-Viennese) what is presented follows Turrini's requirement that any production should be relocated to the time and place of its performance. What is presented here, a co-production with Oval House Theatre Elsewhere project, has been adapted by co-director Rachel Briscoe improvising with a group of actors and work-shopping with young South Londoners to develop a piece that stays true to the structure and intention of the original while reflecting contemporary and local experience.

It presents us with a young man who takes a girl out on a first date but instead of a restaurant or a club or bar he takes her to a rubbish tip. OK, that may be a bit far-fetched but, although beautifully played in a very naturalistic way by Peter Bray as Ads and Sarah Savage as Evie (note those names), this is not a naturalistic piece, however real its values. Directors Briscoe and Dan Barnard clearly establish this by giving it a choreographic opening and ending - especially the ending - that use movement to offer a different level that these young people would not find it easy to articulate.

With a few girders, some mesh gates, a token car for their arrival and a pile of junk designer Chris Gylee and lighting designer Michael Nabarro have created a bleak, rat-infested dump. Evie is naturally somewhat disconcerted when eyes covered and expecting a pleasant surprise she is allowed to open them and discovers where they are, but it is a place that Ads finds special, where he finds he can relax and shoot at rats. It is not just vermin that Ads takes pot shots at but a whole string of contemporary values are called in question. Ads sees the way in which Evie has tried to make herself look attractive as fakery; the time and money she has spent on make up, hair piece, clothes that make her look attractive as done in the expectation that he will spend more money on her.

Evie begins to go along with him, discarding possessions as meaningless, values as false, appearances as something else to shed, as they try to discover who and what they really are in what is a predictable but none the less chilling conclusion that is startling in its originality of its presentation.

The raised tiers around a central arena this octagonal hall makes an impressive performance space but a thin audience on the wet preview night when I saw it showed up very difficult acoustics. With the actors playing true to contemporary unenunciated speech only about half the text was fully comprehensible; with more experience of the venue and a full house to absorb some of the echo things may be better. Neverthless, though I missed much of the detail, there is a clarity of intention in these performances that makes this eighty-minute play impressive in a production that gains much support from Richard Hammarton's sound composition.

Until 24th October 2009

Reviewer: Howard Loxton