B – Royal Court, London

Writer: Guillermo Calderon
Director: Sam Pritchard
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Is radical change ever possible without violence? For revolutions to successfully cause a shift in the fabric of society, surely collateral damage is inevitable, in some cases even desirable; the French wiped out their entire ruling class to change their political structure, the British sheepishly beheaded a King (for all the good that did in the long run), so as Guillermo Calderon’s new play argues, real change requires a real sacrifice.


B is the story of two would-be terrorists and the bomb-maker they hire to build the explosive they intend to use on a nearby bank at three in the morning when no one is around. Part of a peaceable revolutionary group that just happens to set off bombs to attract attention to their cause, Marcela and Alejandra are the only ones not in prison or dead. But when Jose Miguel arrives, they’re shocked to discover he’s created a deadly device and has an agenda of his own.

Calderon’s play, translated by William Gregory and directed by Sam Pritchard, is an interesting discussion about old and failed approaches to revolution, represented by Jose Miguel, and newer tactics espoused by the two young women he meets. Initially, they run through their detailed plans for planting the device, mask their faces and use codewords like ‘cheese’ and ‘cow’ in place of the word ‘bomb’ to prevent detection. Yet, interestingly, when questioned neither woman is able to give any solid reason for what they’re doing, they have plot but no purpose that leads to an interesting debate that runs through the play.

However, having built a sense of momentum and drama as the bomb itself is delivered and finally constructed onsite, with doubts placed in everyone’s mind by the mysterious Jose Miguel, the later stages of Calderon’s play focuses on three abstract monologues in succession that give each character a chance to speak about their motivation or previous experience. These lyrical asides are at odds with the spare and euphemistic flow of the rest of the play and lead to an overly speedy and unsatisfactory conclusion.

The performances are very good and, while there’s little in the script to distinguish Alejandra from Marcela, Danusia Samal and Aimee-Ffion Edwards make a believable pairing as comrades in arms, looking to protect one another while they fulfil their duty to act. Paul Kaye is excellent as the mysterious Jose Miguel, a commanding presence with his own fears of mortality, while Sarah Niles is slightly underused as nosy-neighbour Carmen, a humorous intrusion from the real world.

Chloe Lamford’s wooden one-room set suspended in scaffolding represents the makeshift nature of the explosive device, while separating the characters from the real-world they’re about to interrupt, imprisoning them in a web of metal bars. Director Sam Pritchard keeps things moving swiftly and manages the balance between humour and debate well, developing a useful tension in the first two-thirds of the play, but which could have bigger dividends at the end.

Yet, B leaves many unanswered questions, and its 80-minute run-time means some of the more interesting elements of this drama are underexplored, including the gender of its leads. The fact these are female anarchists in an all-female group with peaceable intentions is a rare and extremely interesting perspective that is barely considered, while one’s preference for death over prison remains unexplained. Likewise, a single conversation is given over to Jose Miguel’s experience of violent revolution, whereas his criticism of Alejandra and Marcela’s feeble approach could be the heart of the drama, which would offer plenty of character insight and allow the cast to more successfully explore the escalating tension between old and new.

Runs until 21 October 2017 | Image: Helen Murray

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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