Writer: Jo Clifford
Director: Susan Worsfold
Reviewer: Emily Hall
Director Susan Worsfield has brought War in America to life for the first time, over twenty years after it was written. Though the play was deemed “too offensive” for production in 1996, it is a striking anecdote to 2017, touching on issues of government corruption, political naiveté and chaotic leader transitions that seem all too important in today’s geopolitical climate.
Even before the opening scene, the audience is brought into the dystopian mind-set as they trek up Carleton Hill into the disused New Parliament House for a rare glimpse at the interior of what many thought would be the Scottish Parliament’s gathering place. The theatre itself is a smaller, oblong room fitted with microphones on many of the audience’s seats with a number of aisles extending to a lowered, gated debating space overseen by a balcony and three ominous-looking chairs.
From the provocative opening lines on the state of the government to the private cavorting and public debacle of the politicians and their aids in this vaguely European “House of Reason,” the space is used dynamically, eschewing any chance of this production falling into the trap of the stale, political drama. The plot follows the rise to power of “she,” the good-hearted wife of a tragically deceased politician trying to make a difference amid corruption, sexism and absurd power plays.
Dystopian genre plays often struggle from time constraints, relying on plot gaps or extremely vague storylines, and while sometimes War in America feels as though it is bringing human struggle into an overly ambiguous government context, its saving grace is the remarkable performance of the young actors and actresses who brought this play to life.
Kirsty Punton plays Warp, a power-hungry, jaded and elegantly confident aid of “she” who captivates attention from the first moments, forcing the struggle between her savvy (and often hilarious) political manoeuvring and her candidate’s sincere desire for authentic political change. “She” herself, played by Saskia Ashdown mediated the play’s apathy and extremism, perfectly and poignantly conveying a relatable struggle to do good within a system that may not be built to serve the people.
The heart of this play was not any particular political issue (few are mentioned) or the governmental process (which was hardly depicted) but the cynicism and confusion of the characters.
Mr. Fox played by Andrew Cameron in particular embodied the personality-driven drama that united funny moments with an intense power struggle. For example, his attempts to get an English-challenged foreign sex worker to “shit on [him]” incite laugher right before he verbally reduces her from “girl,” to “thing,” casting power and sexism as bedfellows in one distinguished stroke.
The second half, embroiled in perhaps one too many subplots, loses much of the unique playfulness that shine in the first half. Time is lost to an unnecessary twist that adds little to the plot involving the unfortunately flat Muntu played by Malachi Reid who strikes the same tone throughout the production even after the stakes have shifted.
The production concludes on an ambiguous and thoughtful note, evoking the humanity and struggle that this play captures so well.
Though not a satisfying conclusion or thorough portrayal of our complex political climate, this performance and its unique setting lends nuanced voices to modern political frustrations, touching on issues of gender and culpability in a sophisticated way that shouldn’t be missed.
Runs until 27 May 2017 | Image: Greg MacVean