Writer: Michael Ross
Director: Andrew Pritchard
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The 1980s feel like an important decade in modern history; an era defined by political individualism, the end of the cold war, the explosion of pop culture and the threat of medical conditions like HIV. For teenagers of that era, the world was changing fast, and as Michael Ross’s new 1984-set play suggests, a romanticism about the past and fear for the future made it an unsettling time.
Protect and Survive is about a trip into a disused nuclear bunker buried in an unspecified area beneath the countryside. Local boy Jack meets brother and sister Charlie and Kirsty who have moved up from London, and he offers to show them around the mysterious military bunker he claims to know well. But once they’re inside their initial bravado turns to fear as events spiral out of control.
Ross’ play is a good first draft and contains lots of potential avenues for the development of this piece which in its current form aren’t quite coming together satisfactorily. There are many themes that this 45-minute show touches up and, although it crams in four separate scenes, the whole play could be considerably extended in order to give them more depth. At present, there are too many throw-away references to topics including Holocaust denial, euthanasia and spy stories that feel tangential to the overall story. There is also a significant change of tone in the transition from scene 3 to 4 and, while dramatic, feels too random, so needs to be woven more completely into the text from the start.
Most interesting is the semi-nostalgic way in which the teenagers approach the bunker, making light of the serious business that went on there and using some nicely pointed humour to make some interesting political references, including an imagined phone call between Thatcher and Regan. The notion of ‘theme-park history’ this suggests, which sanitises interpretations of the past is a very contemporary debate and the characters responses to this historical site could be explored further – and particularly pertinent given that the former London bunkers have become the Cabinet War Rooms museum. There are also some interesting town vs country angles, which add an additional dimension but need to be expanded.
The characters too have much potential and a longer play would give them more time to develop. Kirsty (Carla Rose) is feisty and sceptical but fears being thought ‘ugly’ or ‘fat’ and while a little two-dimensional could be expanded in numerous ways. Her brother Charlie uses humour where Kirsty uses anger, and Josh Husselbee makes him witty and smooth, with a confidence the other two characters lack. Finally Karl Mercer’s Jack is a bit of an oddball who veers from nervous to dangerous in a way that could be more convincing, and much more of the backstory needs to be explained to make sense of his character.
Ross’s writing is packed with subtle references taking in a broad range of culture points from Jimmy Hill’s chin and the Falklands War to Danger Mouse, Rock Hudson and C.S. Lewis which are fun to catch, and the use of excerpts from Public Safety announcements and the HIV awareness ad campaign are a nice touch. Protect and Survive has a lot going for it and with a tighter focus should make for an interesting second draft.
Runs until6 March 2016 | Image: Contributed