By: Joe Penhall
Directed by: Roger Michell
Venue: Cottesloe Theatre
Date: Thursday 24th May 2007
This was four-hander, exploring some of the issues around the technology of warfare and arms dealing in general. It was great fun, also quite moving, and although nothing particularly surprised me, it was still good to see someone writing this stuff at this time.
The Cottesloe had been set up with a central strip of stage, entrances either end, and simple furniture. To our left, there was a kitchen, and to our right was the entrance to the flat. Tom Hollander, dressed (I use the word loosely) in relaxed mode, plays Ned, who has designed an advanced guidance system for military drones. His brother Dan, played by Julian Rhind-Tutt, is a dentist, venturing into Botox, with a militant anti-war wife. Dan is fond of saying “yeah, no, yeah…” a lot, which is something I find myself doing; now I know how it sounds, I’ll have to stop doing it! It was very funny, though, as was most of their chat. In fact, the play changes mood gradually from the beginning, taking on a greater degree of menace towards the end, when Jason Watkins, as Brooks, the man from security, gets involved.
Ned wants to avoid his design being used in a bad way. He doesn’t mind people being killed as such (it’s fewer people than would be killed the conventional way), but he gets worried after talking with Dan that his application might actually be used to kill people who didn’t deserve it – innocent civilians, for example. In fact, the only surprise in the whole play was that anyone could be that intelligent nowadays and not have a clearer idea of what might be done with such an advanced weapon. Still, we allow our nerds and geeks some leeway in social matters, including how the world works, so it didn’t get in my way.
Pippa Haywood plays Angela Ross, the Commercial Director of the firm which Ned works for, and which wants to get a deal signed with the British government to manufacture the product. There’s a bit of commercial stuff about how the UK government wants 51% of the intellectual copyright, with the intention of selling on the weapon to other countries. Ned’s concern is how that may lead to the weapon being sold to countries that would use it in the wrong way, and he holds out for a controlling share of the IP rights. The Commercial Director does her best to persuade him to sign up to the existing deal, but it’s no go.
The scene shifts to the factory after the interval, and the set is changed quite simply. The carpet runner is removed, revealing aircraft shapes on the floor, the sides are lit differently to show up the glass bricks, and shadows of fighter planes are thrown onto these walls. It reminded me of the museum at Coventry, I think. As Ned is still refusing to play ball, the security man is called in, and Jason gives us a lovely turn as the cheerful chappy who’s all friendly to begin with, but who turns on the pressure to make sure Ned changes his mind.
Next we see Brooks applying the pressure to Dan, as Ned has scarpered, having ballsed up his coding to make the weapon useless. Dan isn’t made of particularly stern stuff, and after a short while “volunteers” to give Brooks all the information he could possibly want. The final scene is another duologue between Dan and Ned, where we find out what happened to Ned after he’s picked up by Brooks.
There was a lot of fun in the language and the performances, all of which were excellent. The play struck me as being more about the people and their relationship within the arms industry, plus Dan’s relationship with Ned. It is a bit scary to consider some of the possibilities for the way weapons are changing now, but the reality as experienced by our troops in Iraq shows that superior firepower only gets you so far. Peace cannot be so easily imposed on people who don’t want it, and increased technological superiority isn’t the final answer.
Must just mention the entertaining fight over the curry take away. I’m often distracted when there’s real food on stage, and this was no exception, but I still enjoyed the scrap between the two men, ending up with them lying, exhausted, across the table. Great fun.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me