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

“There are over 200 countries in the world and only 8, maybe 9 have nuclear weapons”

The second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is named Second Blast: Present Dangers and focuses its attention on where the nuclear threat lies now, i.e. in the Middle East and North Korea. Alongside the five plays, there’s more of the verbatim reportage, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, in this section, effectively deployed to demonstrate the almost ridiculousness of the way in which the debate about Iran and nuclear capability has been framed the US and Israel, and later on to remind us of the official political positions of many of our own leaders in the UK.

Altogether I was a tiny bit disappointed with this half of the day (I’d’ve given it 3.5 stars as opposed to 4 for Part 1) as First Blast: Proliferation had cast its net far and wide to cover five different aspects of the history of the bomb but Second Blast returned time and time again to Iran (3 times in fact) in terms of the present day. Obviously it’s a massive part of where we are in terms of potential instability, but I felt that a more useful eye could have been cast elsewhere as well – in a savage indictment of those countries like Israel and Pakistan who still refuse to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or indeed a more damning look at those countries that have signed yet show no signs of reducing their stockpile. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: There Was A Man. There Was No Man

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

 

“Ethics are all very well from the safety of Switzerland”

In some ways Colin Teevan’s There Was A Man. There Was No Man ought to have been the most powerfully resonant piece in the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history given the heightened tension around the Iranian nuclear programme and the ever-present antagonism with Israel.

The official blurb is as follows. ‘While Israel officially has no nuclear arms programme, few doubt it has; Iran claims this gives it the right to develop its own nuclear programme. Who will be the first to blink? When an Israeli and Iranian scientist meet at a conference in Jordan, their meeting has deep repercussions for their nations, their families and themselves.’ Continue reading “Review: There Was A Man. There Was No Man”

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: Option, Tricycle Theatre

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

“How can security not be our agenda”

Amit Gupta’s Option was my favourite of the plays that made up the first part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history, and probably the best of the entire collection. It centres on the debates and soul-searching of three Indian nuclear scientists in 1968: Professor Akram representing the past and a link to Gandhi’s founding principles, Dr Mishra a member of the government negotiating the extremely tricky waters around the intense pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Prakash an idealistic young man whose scientific passion promises much for the future.

As China tests its own nuclear weapons and bitter enemy Pakistan increases its efforts to secure its own, India found itself torn between looking after the security of its own nation and succumbing to the international pressure to agree to the US/Soviet Union pact that would see them back down from arming. The geopolitics of the history of nuclear whatnot is normally most focused on the key players of the USA and USSR with little consideration for the realities on the ground in countries caught in their own mini-Cold Wars. Continue reading “Review: Option, Tricycle Theatre”

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”

Review: The Westbridge, Royal Court

“Everyone lived perfectly happily round here together before you young ones try to integrate and confuse things”

First things first, Ultz’s staging upstairs at the Royal Court for The Westbridge is a piece of craziness. Most of the seating is in the centre with chairs pointing in all different directions and stages around the edge of the theatre. I found it highly frustrating as the structure of the show with its mutliple short scenes meant there was constant moving around in our seats and much huffing and puffing from a midweek matinee audience who generally weren’t up for it.

The play itself is very Royal Court Upstairs and I can totally see the logic in premiering it in Peckham as part of their Theatre Local initiative. I have to admit to turning down the chance to see it there several times as I was sure I didn’t want to see it. But I let people’s recommendations sway me and I’m glad I did, but I really do wish I’d seen it with a Peckham audience to see how it connected to a non-traditional audience (assuming it wasn’t full of regular Royal Court visitors going on the cheap!) Continue reading “Review: The Westbridge, Royal Court”

Review: On The Record, Arcola Theatre

“I just think it’s my right to talk, to be free, to write. I’m not special, I just decided to do this”

iceandfire are a theatre company dedicated to exploring stories about the struggle for human rights through performance. Their latest work, which has now just closed at the Arcola, was On the Record by Christine Bacon and Noah Birksted-Breem, a mixture of verbatim work and theatrical reconstructions following the stories of six investigative journalists battling to expose their horrific stories from across the globe.

Their reports are first given under the pretext of a conference on press freedom, indicating the importance of reporting free from undue influence, to tell the stories we might not want to hear but which we simply must. Then from Sri Lanka to Iraq, Mexico to Russia and the Middle East, we see each of them at work, risking their lives in a multitude of ways from a multitude of enemies. Continue reading “Review: On The Record, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse

“I did not come here for a political diatribe”

I have a friend who has a mortal fear of the embarrassment she would suffer if she were to die on the toilet (yeah, I know!) but the manner of playwright Ödön von Horváth’s death is so bizarrely random, killed by a falling tree branch on the way to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the cinema, that I think I’d take it (although I’d want to be on the way to an art-house film rather than The Green Lantern – pretentious to the end ;-)) In which convoluted way leads us to the Southwark Playhouse who are putting on his 1933 play Faith, Hope and Charity. It has been translated by Christopher Hampton who also did the English version for the Almeida’s Judgment Day, my only other von Horváth experience.

The main premise of the story is of how the working class individual can struggle to make ends meet for a lifetime yet still be lost in and crushed by a social system that cares nothing for them. Saleswoman Elisabeth is such a person: fined for selling lingerie without a permit which she can’t afford to buy because she hasn’t got a job, she borrows money to pay the fine and borrows some more to get the permit, but her economy with the truth – after all who would lend money to a petty criminal – gets her into even more trouble as she struggles to keep life and love on track. Continue reading “Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse”