Pro: Jacob Dunn was outstanding as Benjamin the young victim.
Con: Light and noise problems influenced the whole performance.
When I entered Etcetera Theatre a cleaner (Whitney Boyd) was on her knees frantically removing non-existant dirt off the floor in a scarcely furnished room of a government building. This act symbolises the eagerness of the new government to maintain a clean slate although, their policy is soon revealed to be far from immaculate and rather dubious. Writer Danny Pegg and director Alex Israel (both founders and producers of Unfinished Business Theatre Company) have taken us to Britain in the near future. Unemployment, financial crisis and mass immigration are problems of the past, but the price that must be paid for this is terror and the loss of individual freedom.
The youngest victim of the new regime is Benjamin (Jacob Dunn), a young man accused of having committed a crime he cannot remember, but which has been recorded on tape. A crime committed against the government, who will persecute him without mercy. He is interrogated by agents Terence (Deniz Barazi) and Goldsmith (Anna McCormick), two young and loyal followers of the new nationalist regime who are eager to please their principals by forcing Benjamin to confess treason. They try to frighten and unsettle him, humiliate and abuse him, but no action and no threat has the effect they are looking for. Is he innocent after all? Or are they dealing with a far more indomitable terrorist than they have assumed?
Dunn shines in the portrayal of a helpless individual struggling to assert himself against the unfair treatment of an overpowering system. As soon as he entered the room I was captivated by his performance, feeling compassion for his character. Unable to move, his face alone showed the wide array of feelings his character went through: fear, sadness, confusion, but also the defiant will to maintain his dignity.
In contrast to their helpless victim Terence and Goldsmith seem all-powerful. But in a terrorist regime safety is guaranteed for no one. Roles are reversed when the duo meet their commanders Sapphire (Lesley Curtis-Brown) and Carmine (Lisa Morris). Despite the aloofness of their characters, all four of these women manage to show a glimpse of the emotional versatility underneath their hard surface.
The set is very simple, a desk and chairs constituting everything on stage; and no score underlines the scenes. The tension is built up solely by speeches and pauses, but this also meant that I got easily distracted by the music and cheering football fans in The Oxford Arms pub below. At first I wasn’t sure if the music was part of the play, but I soon found it quite annoying. Unfortunately there were more technical issues that influenced the evening. The actors often performed in semidarkness, which got even worse when one of the lights burned out. This was most noticeable during the second half of the play, when the light was designed to focus on single actors but left their faces in the dark. When I couldn’t see their facial expressions I felt like I was missing out.
Inspired by recent acts of terror and violence Unfinished Business Theatre Company hopes to encourage a debate on our definition of terror. The play can be put in line with well know dystopian novels such as 1984 by George Orwell and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury as it asks similar questions; questions which are still as relevant nowadays as they were sixty years ago.
Author: Danny Pegg
Director: Alex Israel
Producer: Unfinished Business Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7482 4857
Booking Until: 5 July 2014
Box Office Link: http://www.etceteratheatre.com/details.php?show_id=1792