Music and Lyrics: Desmond O’Connor
Book: Andrew Taylor
Director: Patrick Wilde
Musical Director: Stuart Barr
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
There is nothing to fear but fear itself. If we’re innocent we have nothing to fear. Our Government is here to protect its citizens. Truth will out. All these phrases shape our core beliefs but how many of them are actually true? What happens if one day we are arrested under secretive ‘anti-terror’ laws?
It’s a fate explored in Desmond O’Connor and Andrew Taylor’s topical and chilling musical Failed States. Joseph, an American citizen living in London with his pregnant fiancée, arrives home to find two government agents waiting for him. This simple meeting sets in place a chilling chain of events that challenges the couples view, and our own, of what the true price of national security is.
Inspired by Kafka’s The Trial, there’s also echoes of Orwell here – the dangers of doublespeak and a shadowy government eroding human rights.
Set pre and post 7/7, the recent 10th anniversary gives this piece renewed topicality and in a world looking to combat terrorism it raises many pertinent questions.
It may seem an unlikely subject for a musical, but there’s an intelligence here in both score and book that make this a thoroughly grown-up musical. There are echoes of Sondheim in the score but there’s a variety that keeps attention. From touching solos and duets that give us a real insight into the human soul, through to soaring choral numbers it’s a complex yet accessible score.
That accessibility is aided by a first-rate cast. Jim Durrant and Sarah-Louise Young as the couple torn apart by the accusation provide the emotional heart to the piece. The pair sing beautifully but also provide well drawn and believable characters. Joseph Wilkins and Steve McNeil’s MI5 and CIA agents have the necessary menace without resorting to stereotype villains while Harry Gibson’s enigmatic Franz gives a subtle yet compelling link to Kafka’s original novel. It’s a strong ensemble piece, however, with Patrick Wilde’s direction ensuring that, even among the competing attraction of the Latitude Festival environment, we are gripped throughout.
We may hope that the situation portrayed here is a work of dramatic licence but in increasingly tense times it’s a scary possibility that this piece could be just a little too close to the truth – or whatever truth our leaders want to spin us.