“Gentlemen, let the race begin”
Nicolas Kent’s final hurrah at the Tricycle Theatre, which he has patiently nurtured into fine battling form as a theatre really at the cutting edge of hot-topic drama, is this multi-authored two-part epic – The Bomb – a partial history. Inviting nine authors to respond to the debate (or more accurately the lack thereof) around nuclear weapons, Kent has pieced together a stimulating and challenging piece of theatre, divided into two parts, which can be experienced separately on different nights or one after the other on certain days, in a seven-hour marathon, which is how I did it (and probably how I’d recommend to it).
Part one is labelled First Blast: Proliferation and focuses on the period 1940-1992 as nuclear weapons became a horrendous reality as Japan found out to its cost and then a terrible threat to all as the Cold War descended between the superpowers of the USA and the USSR, and more and more countries sought to gain nuclear capabilities for themselves, threatening imbalances right across the globe. The attempts to control the spread of nuclear weaponry is also dealt with as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into being and international pressure exerted to try and bring everyone into the fold.
I’ve reviewed each of the five plays that made up this first part separately, so you can click on the links to read more about Zinnie Harris’ From Elsewhere: the message…, Ron Hutchinson’s Calculated Risk, Lee Blessing’s Seven Joys, Amit Gupta’s Option and John Donnelly’s Little Russians. I will say that I found First Blast: Proliferation to be the stronger of the two halves, the exploration of the (unknown to me) history of Indian nuclear development being particularly fascinating and the investigation of the arrogant assumptions of the superpowers that they could control nuclear weaponry across the globe also very well done.
There is much pleasure in seeing a company work across a set of short plays like these, one gets to see them stretch the acting muscles in front of our very eyes, Paul Bhattacharjee, Daniel Rabin and Tariq Jordan all impressed me immensely in what is a very male-heavy bit of theatre. I also liked the echoes of connections that emerged between the plays – all written separately – both forward and back as facts and names and events reappeared and joined up some of the dots and increase understanding and enhance the whole experience. As a self-declared partial history, it can only illuminate part of the story, but what it does shed light on is done with sensitivity, variety and explosive verve.