Testing the Echo
Out of Joint
It is difficult to criticise a play that deals with current race relations in Britain. Most, if not all, of us so much wish the nation to harmonise as a community and to welcome incomers from around the world.
Which makes David Edgar's Testing the Echo, in Matthew Dunster's production for Out of Joint; the more complex since, from the start, I could not decide to whom it is addressed. That it is intended as a polemic I have no doubt, albeit my own knowledge of this writer's work is scant. But was it aimed at conventional Anglo-Saxons like myself, xenophobes (of whom too many exist for my taste), or is it aimed at members of the the so-called ethnic minorities themselves?
That it deals specifically with the process of naturalisation as prescribed for those wishing to become English is no real clue to the play's purpose. The English, after all, I imagine have as much difficulty with requirements for British Citizenship as any recent arrival to our shores. Which of us can name instantly the king whose powers were curbed by Magna Carta and by which date women over 21 received the vote - to pose two of the simpler of the questions asked?
To begin with, I am puzzled by the roamings of members of the cast prior to the opening of the play. Some wander with uncertain purpose on and off stage while others gather casually around the entrance. Were this not irregular behaviour by a professional company, I would have ignored it.
For the rest, the eight players represent more than twenty characters of every nationality one might spot in a busy British town today.
Individual performances, so far as I can tell, are excellent, difficult though it is to identify characters in the kaleidoscopic mis-en-scène that is the unfolding action. Yet were the funds to allow the company to engage a different actor for each part, then I fancy the result would be simply chaos on stage.
Paul Wills' design involves clever back projection, the importance of which is not always apparent, though without it movement of the actors would no doubt become more of an issue.
All that said, I am bound to record that many young people in the audience seem to enjoy this play hugely. So much so that the thought occurs that David Edgar may have written it for them. For to be sure, the subject is one that, theatrically and politically, we shall be revisiting many times and oft in days to come.
The production tours to The Hague, Holland, Edinburgh Traverse, Liverpool Playhouse, Warwick Arts Centre, Guildford Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Manchester Library, Oxford Playhouse, Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal, London Tricycle and Birmingham Rep.
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole