'The Bomb' review or 'A theatre with its finger on the trigger.'
'The Bomb – a partial history. In two parts.'
Tricycle Theatre, Monday 20th February 2012
Written for the Ham & High
This is the final theatrical smorgasbord from the outgoing artistic director of The Tricycle, Nicolas Kent. He has given us the slightly patronising, 'Women in Power', the bumpy but revealing 'Not White and Black' season and the awesome exposé on the Afghan war, 'The Great Game'. Now Kent has commissioned ten playwrights to excavate the history of the nuclear bomb. The tone might be a little erratic but this is a profoundly absorbing event, which'll leave you stimulated and more than a little frightened.
This series is separated into two clusters of five plays, which you could see in one packed day – but should probably spread over two. The 'first blast', 'Proliferation', examines the gradual acquirement of the bomb, whilst the second blast, 'Present Dangers', focuses on the current danger posed by the Middle East and beyond. Both segments contain a range of genres, including heightened satires, relatively straight-forward, didactic numbers, more urgent and emotional pieces and a stream of verbatim extracts.
The nuclear bomb is no laughing matter but it is the comic plays, which hit the bullseye. John Donnelly's, 'Little Russians' is an utterly bonkers comic strip play, which sees two dim Ukrainians try to sell a nuclear warhead to a leery and washed out Russian. It is a gleefully liberated piece, which paints its characters in bold techni-colour and cleverly highlights the susceptibility of any peace agreement to selfish, personal pursuits.
Lee Blessing's, 'Seven Songs' is a perfectly pitched satire, set in an exclusive members' club. At first, only a brash Yank and humble Brit claim membership, proudly displaying their neon eggs, which represent nuclear armament. But it isn't long before a wily Chinese lad has 'weasled' his way into the club and ushered in many of his international, 'friends'. It was the most enjoyable and useful history lesson I've ever received.
Ron Hutchinson attacks the subject head on, in 'Calculated Risk', in which prime minister, Clement Attlee, must determine Britain's nuclear program, in the aftermath of the A Bomb. Chillingly, Hutchinson suggests this monumental decision might've been affected by Attlee's desire to break free from Churchill's legacy. Colin Teevan's play, 'There Was a Man, There Was No Man', breathes emotional life into the recent headline, concerning the assassination of an Iranian scientist. Lit up by some highly charged performances, this intense play emphasizes the compromised loyalties that the nuclear arms race has exposed and exacerbated.
But it is David Greig's purely hypothetical play, 'The Letter of Last Resort', which proves the most revealing. 'She' (Belinda Lang), a newly elected prime minister, is requested by 'He' (Simon Chandler), a government advisor, to write a letter, which is to be read in the event of nuclear disaster. Lang and Chandler spark brilliantly together, as they struggle to devise a logical response to such an illogical and inconceivably devastating act. As the two get trapped in a web of paradoxes, the frightening absurdity of the nuclear issue – the logical impossibility but terrifying possibility of their deployment – floods through the theatre and chokes us all.