Pros: A double bill which captures the failings of human nature with an astutely cynical eye and healthy dose of schadenfreude.
Cons: Not for the faint of heart or so well suited to such an intimate performance space.
Kicking off the autumn season at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden, this new double bill features a new play and reinterpretation of Karl Klauss’s iconic war play The Last Days of Mankind. With its reputation for supporting some of the best new contemporary theatre, the Tristan Bates consistently promises a good night out. The relaxed bar and lounge space is one of my favourites in the city and a hidden oasis from the hustle of the street.
Led by an all-female cast, the evening begins with Shoot I Didn’t Mean That, by Catriona Kerridge. Inspired by Karl Krauss, this postmodern play intertwines three separate and highly visceral performances which blend humorous monologue with bitter reflections on the futility of war.
Playing the role of a hapless tourist abroad, Alexine Lafaber is a woman whose obsession with the Nazis pushes her to the verge of psychosis and beyond. After giving the Nazi salute in a Vienna flea market and being socially shamed, she’ll never lower her arm again. Tarred with the stigma of her crime she begins a highly energised, off kilter monologue which explores the taboo of war through tasteless jokes and a spell in prison. Meanwhile two British School girls argue at the Somme about what life was really like in the trenches. Their ideas take a much darker turn when they get back to school and plot to fly to Syria to wage their own warfare. This is Grange Hill for grownups, with dodgy school dinners and stolen chemicals from the science lab. In the process the only thing they end up destroying is themselves. In some nameless Parliament an interpreter (played brilliantly by Emily Blairtow) grows tired listening to endless political hypocrisy and debates on genocide and war crimes. Through humorous torch songs and stand ups she sustains the energy of the play towards its shattering conclusion.
Not for the faint of heart, this is a play which reflects the lasting effect of war on the psyche of contemporary culture and it’s not particularly pretty consequences. Full of fear and uncertainty, it is at times a jarring and claustrophobic watch.
After a 15 minute interval comes an adaption of Kraus’s iconic epilogue from his play The Last Night. With novel use of multimedia projections, booming voice-overs, torch light and the imagery of war, it is a universal message for our times. All four actors come together to recite the rhythmic poetry of Kraus’s prose. Clad in army gear and gas masks, they march through a performance which works perfectly in tandem with the first play.
Again, the only criticism is that such weighty issues are hard to contract down into a short (35 minute run) act. I felt it at times it was overly intense, where more emphasis on drama and plot may have lead the audience to come to their own moral conclusions about the tragedy of war, making it all the more impactful. Definitely worth a watch.
Director: Pamela Schermann
Set and Costume: Mike Lees
Lighting designer: Petr Vocka
Composer & Sound Design: Ben Osborn
Projection Designer: Mathew Brown
Booking Information: 020 7240 6283
Runs Until: 18 October 2014