Pros: Some of the lyrical elements in the script are highly evocative.
Cons: Everything else.
‘How does it end?’ asks one of the characters in Kieran Hurley’s play An Injury.
‘It doesn’t!’ Responds another.
This would be my choice of words if I had to sum up how I felt whilst watching.
Described as a ‘political new play about drones, Syria, actions and reactions and how we take responsibility for our part in the world’, the play is a chaotic mass of words occasionally nicely linked together to create lyrical effects, but ultimately devoid of meaning. Its heavily abstract language, lack of action onstage, and poor production values make this 90-minute single act feel endless, especially in the overheated auditorium of the Ovalhouse.
At the heart of this play is the longstanding maxim: ‘An injury to one is a concern to all,’ which reminds the audience that everyone shares the burden of the horrors of society’s failings. Directly or indirectly, we are all responsible for the deaths, the genocides and the manslaughters across the world.
One of the most poignant concepts expressed by Hurley is that all the dead are still around us, watching and judging our actions. The victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Apple factory workers that commit suicide in China, the migrants that die in the Mediterranean Sea, alongside Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, and a long list of public figures whose names are mentioned at breakneck speed. Even Jihadi John is named, along with Carrie Fisher, and I wonder why John Lennon is left out in this name-dropping parade.
There are four actors onstage, two men and two women, modestly dressed and all clutching a chunky book from which they read their lines. In between scenes, they also read a series of directions, seemingly written for the camera, as if they were rehearsing a film. These instructions refer to elements like lighting, zooming, angles and the general layout of scenes, but their hasty and monotone delivery becomes an obstacle for the flow of the play. The acting is weak, the voices poorly projected and the body language inconsistent.
A handful of characters return in a series of separate vignettes, which eventually intertwine and converge in a bloodied dream sequence. To make things even more complicated, every time a character returns to the stage, they are played by a different cast member, without a costume change or the use of reference props. Not a shift in lighting, nor a significant soundtrack is there to guide the audience; I got lost long before the first hour was up.
The images suggested are crude and sometimes disturbing. The language is inarticulate and there is excessive swearing; An Injury could be the result of Samuel Beckett’s post-war private writings, edited by James Joyce and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
The traverse stage, with two raked sitting areas facing each other, is entirely bare, except for an indistinct grey mass of reformed matter suspended overhead. Like a gigantic ball of melted lead that has cooled down, designer Oli Townsend’s contribution is arguably the most significant element of this production and offers the striking visual metaphor of a play that is shapeless, dysfunctional and heavy to bear.
Author: Kieran Hurley
Director: Alex Swift
Producer: Ovalhouse and Permanent Red
Box Office: 020 7582 7680
Booking Link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/aninjury
Booking Until: 22 July 2017