Review: Axis

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre


“Hungry as they are, they are proud to be North Korean and not American puppets”

Even within the constraints of a short piece of drama, playwrights often think and write big, but not always to the greatest effect, and so it felt a little bit with Diana Son’s Axis, one of the plays making up the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history. Starting off in a White House strategy room, two advisers try to come up with a sexy soundbite that will help sell Dubya’s aggressive post 9/11 strategy, we then flip ten years into the future in North Korea where two members of the government discuss what things might be like under their new inexperienced leader Kim Jong-Un.

Both sections have their merits: the idea that something as powerful and definitive as the ‘Axis of Evil’ rhetoric is something that could have been whipped by speech-writers and spin doctors has a horribly persuasive currency but it felt a lost opportunity for the revelation that this policy threw away the considerable diplomatic efforts of the previous administration who had come close to buying out the North Koreans’ nuclear programme in exchange for aid to just be used as a post-script caption. And where the 2012 discussion of the huge uncertainty around their untried new leader does look at the repercussions of this hardening of the position on both sides, especially on worsening the poverty in North Korea, there’s an almost slapstick tone which undermined the seriousness of the subject. Continue reading “Review: Axis”

Review: Talk Talk Fight Fight

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre


“We need to find a wrecking ball”

Ryan Craig’s Talk Talk Fight Fight emerged as one of the better pieces of the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history for me. An intelligent look at life in the negotiations rooms at the United Nations as an EU delegation prepare to try and consult on nuclear non-proliferation with an Iran who are being less than upfront about their nuclear development. Their determination to remain reasonable and diplomatic is then challenged with the arrival of a brash CIA agent with an Iranian nuclear scientist in tow, but whose reliability is questioned in different ways by different people.

Craig captures perfectly the frustrations of bureaucrats and activists having to dance around the obfuscations of the Iranians, deflect the determination of some to make a case for war, and all the time ensure they are observing international law down to the very last clause. Shereen Martin and Daniel Rabin excel here as two workers each passionately devoted to the cause, as does Belinda Lang who was almost unrecognisable as a Baroness Ashton (of UpHolland, the village of my birth doncha know)-like figure who has to skip from meeting to meeting, from nuclear disarmament to trade debates about fish at the drop of a hat. Continue reading “Review: Talk Talk Fight Fight”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – First Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“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. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – First Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: Calculated Risk, Tricycle Theatre

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – First Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“Could it be possible that war becomes so terrible that it outlaws itself?”

Ron Hutchinson’s Calculated Risk, the second play in the first half of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history, is an excellent debate on the morality and the reality of adopting a nuclear weapons programme. Set in the second half of 1945, the play focuses on Clement Atlee’s dilemma as he came into power as Prime Minister just days before the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a move sanctioned by Churchill’s government, and was put under pressure to decide on what Great Britain’s nuclear policy would be.

The main part of the piece is a sustained discussion between Attlee and his key advisors: Field Marshal Grierson, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and scientist William Penney who are each pursuing their own agendas, and following their own instincts, in debating this huge issue. And Hutchinson spells it all out with great clarity, pitting the inevitability of scientific advance against ethics and the notion of free will, the morality of choosing an option that would undoubtedly result in huge civilian loss of life against the political expediency of warning potential enemies of what they might face. Continue reading “Review: Calculated Risk, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: Seven Joys, Tricycle Theatre

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – First Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“No more kimchi for you”

 Lee Blessing’s Seven Joys was the first introduction of an (initally) light-hearted note into the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history. Set in a members’ club in Washington DC, the metaphor of exclusive membership to an institution is used extremely effectively to show the impossibility of maintaining exclusivity of something that is hugely desired, especially when that something is nuclear capability.

As loud American Cal revels in his club for one, helped out by faithful butler Harry, the calm atmosphere is shattered by the arrival of the blundering Russian Slava, who brings with him his symbol of eligibility of membership – a glowing egg and his Chinese chef. But as they discuss how they intend to control what it is that they possess, it turns out that their staff have now managed to become ‘members’ too – China and Britain, along with their friend Marianne, France. Continue reading “Review: Seven Joys, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: Fit and Proper People, Soho Theatre

“Gonna tell me next that the game is all about the comfort of social habit and a worldwide need for tribal ritual and worship within the parameters of global capitalism…”

There’s a great sense of fun around the Soho Theatre’s new show, the RSC-commissioned Fit and Proper People by Georgia Fitch: the theatre has been transformed into a miniature football stadium with East and West stands, terrace seating and flashy advertising hoardings; turn up in a football shirt and you’ll get a free drink and there’s even free pies and a prize raffle at half-time. But as Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here Right Now’ swells loudly over the PA system and the cast launch into choreographer Spencer Soloman’s stylised slo-mo movement, it soon becomes apparent that whilst there’s a lot of show on display, the content unmistakably leaves a lot to be desired.

Fitch’s meticulously researched play has taken much inspiration from real life events in the world of football and particularly the murky backroom dealings as ethics are increasingly pushed aside in the race to top the league. The rush to secure foreign investors, the sweeping of numerous scandals under the carpet, the exploitation of young players, the experience of women in such a male-dominated industry, the treatment of loyal fans as profit margins are pushed, there’s a plethora of issues which Fitch folds into the narrative but they just meld into a cacophonous mess that whilst brimming with enthusiasm, lacks any sort of clarity. Continue reading “Review: Fit and Proper People, Soho Theatre”