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Theatre Uncut 2012

Helena Tornero, Clara Brennan, Hayley Squires, Lena Kitsopoulou and David Greig
Theatre Uncut
Young Vic

Theatre Uncut 2012

This interesting initiative is part of an international week of theatrical action. Theatre Uncut presents a collection of short new political plays by writers from around the world that have been written in response to the current political and economic challenges facing each writer’s own country.

Scripts were made available for downloading from through the web site www.theatreuncut.com and could be performed by anyone anywhere, whether in a professional theatre or at a private reading, free of royalty during the week until 18th November.

Theatre Uncut was established last year when 87 different performances were staged involving over 800 people presented in the UK, USA, Germany and Ireland. This year there are contributions from Greece, Syria, Spain, USA, Iceland and the UK. Writers, performers and everyone concerned with the organisation and presentation of Theatre Uncut contributes their work voluntarily; any profits go to charity and the organisation welcomes donations in support.

I saw the opening programme of the flagship performances being presented in the Young Vic’s Clare auditorium which consisted of five short plays. These and others, which include plays by Neil LaBute (USA) and Mohammad Al Attar (Syria), will be in repertoire through the week. There is an opportunity to discuss the plays with some specially invited guests at the end of each evening’s programme.

Yesterday by Helena Tornero (Spain)

As workers all over the EU are staging strikes against their governments’ austerity measures, this Spanish dramatist looks at the way protest is handled and manipulated.

She presents us with a young policemen who tells us how he went to meet his girlfriend carrying chocolates and an engagement ring and with a restaurant table booked. He was intending to propose to her but she forestalled him with a question: “Where were you last night?”

As she joins him and this becomes a reenactment, we discover that this is not about suspected infidelity but a moral conflict. She knows where he was for she was there. She saw him smash a shop window at last night’s demonstration. She knows a government agent provocateur was seeking to discredit a peaceful protest.

As she sets up the evidence and demands that he takes responsibility, the audience is implicitly accused of its own inaction. Jack Farthing as the likeable policeman could get the audience on his side where it not for the moral determination of Katie McGuinness as his girlfriend. The director is Cressida Brown.

Spine by Clara Brennan (UK)

This play takes its cue from library closures and our attitudes to education.

Holli Dempsey plays Amy, a teenage student who goes looking for a room. This too is presented as a narration. It is a monologue which allows her to give a sharp characterisation of the frail elderly landlady she encounters, presented as a teenager would see her: bent and birdlike with a cigarette always between her fingers. She is amazed to discover herself surrounded by books. “I nicked ‘em,” the old girl confesses. The council was going to burn them.

It is a beautifully constructed monologue and Dempsey handles it expertly under Hannah Price’s direction as she describes her introduction to reading and our cultural heritage and the changes that brought in her life.

It is a pattern that parallels the role that libraries have played for so many people over the last century and becomes a powerful reminder of what is lost by their closure.

Blondie by Hayley Squires (UK)

In a dystopian, post-Coalition future Britain, a blonde political leader (Denise Gough) is being interrogated by a legal team (Craig Parkinson, Colin Carmichael and Eliza Bennett) for “crimes against humanity. She is totally open about her guilt but presents her ends as justifying her actions.

Squires presents a play that takes a savagely comic look at the sexist male gaze even as it anatomises political expediency and raps the audience’s knuckles for thinking they are having a tough time when, if they look at what is happening elsewhere they might realise they have it easy.

There is an effective contrast between the coolness of these lawyers and politicians and the horrors with which they are dealing, but there is not enough context for this to become a very real situation, a problem that Kirsty Housely’s direction has not been able to solve.

The Price by Lena Kitsopoulou (Greece)

This is a savagely funny surreal comedy that gives a stark picture of consumer desire, the struggle to economise and the value now placed on things and people.

It is set in a supermarket where, along with their groceries, a childless couple is looking for a baby. Tom Stuart and Kesty Morrison play the would-be parents as a typical bickering couple, she with a particular eye for a bargain, he refusing to lower his expectations.

It is a sharp critique of a society where everything has a price as much as a reflection on the draconian measures that EU financiers demand of Greece.

The simplicity of Emma Callander's production, using cardboard boxes and a lot of mime, makes it effective without being too macabre.

Dalgety by David Greig (UK)

David Greig takes his inspiration from Stephen Gough, the “naked rambler”, a former Royal Marine who has walked the length of Britain naked.

He has at various times spent many months in prison following public order charges and three days after release from jail this summer was arrested again by Fife police. The play takes place in a Fife police station where policewoman Belinda (Lesley Hart) and the sergeant in charge (John Bett) are about to go off duty.

Not only does a naked rambler turn up with a present of a dead deer but a whole tribe of the naked are gathering outside around a woman about to give birth while such symbols of the contemporary world as Tesco’s, roadways and bridges disappear from the landscape.

While Belinda is tolerant, adaptive and welcomes the chance to return to a more natural lifestyle her sergeant cannot handle such a return to freedom and feels safe only in the embrace of the law He stays in the station, keeping the law ready for when people feel they need it..

Dalgety makes a very upbeat utopian ending to the evening but can we really imagine a world in which we do without the trappings of civilization. It is a dream that always hovers but could it ever happen? The sergeant may be right.

Co-artistic director Emma Callander has said that “Theatre Uncut was created to raise debate and galvanise action around political issues that affect all of our lives”.

To judge by the clamour among the many young people at the more formal discussion that took place immediately after the performance, those aims are already being achieved.

There are fourteen plays available as part of Theatre Uncut 2012. You have until November 18th to mount your own performances free of any royalty payment and play your own part in awakening awareness.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton