“I should have been drunk. That would have made sense. A drunk Brit abroad. But no, I wasn’t. I was sober…”
Much of the commemoration of the start of World War I that we have seen in British theatres has been from British writers so it is interesting to see that this double bill combines not only a classic piece of Austrian writing from the time but also a contemporary response to it as a result of a competition run by Time Zone Theatre and director Pamela Schermann. The result is a powerful look at the sad timelessness of global conflict that speaks as much to world affairs today as it does to the events of a century ago.
Catriona Kerridge’s Shoot, I Didn’t Mean That was the panel’s choice and has a raw energy that sprawls occasionally as its three disparate story threads wind their way across the stage. Over there a woman is locked in an Austrian prison, just here two girls are chattering away and in the middle another woman is trapped in a box reciting bland political statements. We gradually find out that none are quite as harmless as they seem, no matter how innocent their actual intentions may or may not be, and Kerridge perhaps underplays this notion.
As Nazis salutes, interruptions during the Remembrance Day silence and conflict tourism are thrown into the spotlight, it feels like a more strident interrogation of motivation is called for as opposed to the apologia that comes across here, though the energy in the writing is something to watch. The same company of four actors then move over to the inspiration for that first piece, Karl Kraus’ nightmarish The Last Days of Mankind, the expressionist epilogue of which is presented here.
The apocalyptic vision here is markedly different – ensemble work, choreographed movement, linguistic complexity, dissolving structure, the horrors of war from the trenches to the officers’ mess to the newsrooms are presented in a continuous whirl, which rarely lets up to allow any self-indulgent posturing. Instead, a visceral response to what war does to society emerges, something Schermann emphasises with a topical filmic reminder to cap the whole evening off – heavy-handed perhaps but effective.
This double-bill is likewise perhaps a little flawed but hugely fascinating in its different approach to commemorating 1914, an approach that is neither (wholly) British or male. The enthusiasm and indeed the adventurousness of a young company to put on work like this should rightly be celebrated.