Reviewer: Joan Phillips
The War Has Not Yet Started is a composite of 12 short stories reflecting some of the very human anxieties of today’s troubled world. Written by Mikhail Durnenkov and translated from the original Russian by Noah Birksted-Breen, this 80-minute play bleakly captures some of society’s deepest, sometimes hidden, and often little-understood fears, with dark humour.
David Birrell, Tamzin Griffin and Joshua James rotate roles and sometimes genders and ages, as they play out the 12 personal, social and political situations. One scene sets a teenage son against his parents. His attendance at a peace rally sufficiently antagonises his parents to violently take the tops off their soft boiled eggs at breakfast. In another, a successful son helps his parents with a new home. The gratefulness of the mother in contrast to the silence of the father speaks volumes at the emotional gulf between man and son.
Darker themes are put under the spotlight. The disturbing effect of the continual broadcasting of war atrocities on the viewer; the political distortion of news and reporting of events for propaganda; the violence of computer games: are all used to show society’s paranoias about who to trust and how our repeated exposure to violence can affect perceptions and our own judgement.
James Cotterill’s set is a curious contrast of light and dark. On the left is a bleak, black Armageddon-style mound of broken doors and debris topped with a chair ready for a Bond-style megalomaniac. The blank white walls, starkly decorated and bright white lighting on the right of the stage is disturbingly suggestive of Orwellian interrogation rooms. Imaginative use of projections on to the plain walls from lighting designer Tim Lutkin and AV designer Alex Uragallo, create the effects needed for the frequent scene changes with the flick of a switch. The almost three-dimensional graphics for the computer games scenes are particularly effective.
Durnenkov doesn’t limit his attention to the political and social but also holds a mirror to our own personal vulnerabilities – infidelity, jealousy, compassion for those less fortunate are touched upon. One scene, played out in complete darkness, is particularly revelatory. Strip away light and technology, how soon before we reveal what we really think about each other?
Full of metaphors, irony and dark humour Durnenkov examines these personal fears and attempts to show how the sum of them can accumulate to feed our insecurities to breaking point. Overwhelmingly bleak, this is a sometimes surreal collage of scenes of human beings at their worst. The short scenes and fast role changes highlighted the fast changing and multi-media world we live in but were a little too disorientating at times. However, the gender reversal, at first confusing, is provocatively thoughtful. As a whole, it feels slightly frustrating, with little connectivity between the scenes to form a complete work. The final scene was unexpectedly drawn out which didn’t fit with what had gone on before and for no obvious reason. But the strong cast of Birrell and Griffin, with a stand out performance from Joshua James, pull it together.
In 1933 Roosevelt said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. These words resonate now as much as then. Durnenkov’s title over 80 years later, The War Has Not Yet Started, repeats the warning.
Runs until 28 May 2016| Image: Contributed