Mephisto [A Rhapsody], Gate Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

Aymeric has been working at the Balbek Theatre, in a small town miles away from the nation’s capital, its culture and politics, for five years. He longs for fame, excitement and to leave the relentless monotony of provincial life behind him and will do anything to achieve these goals. Along with his discontent, right-wing sentiment grows across the country. In the capital, the ‘liberal elite’ make great art, drink champagne and argue over how, as state-funded artists, they should respond to the rising fascism – or if they can at all.

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Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta, Gate Theatre

by Louis Train

Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta is an odd show, odder even than the name promises. Edith Alibec stars as a young Romanian woman, pre-pubescent in the earliest scenes, who grows up in a traveling circus where her mother hangs from the big top by her hair. The play is based on Aglja Veteranyi’s autobiographical novel of the same name.

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Feature | Top Ten Shows of 2018

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by Laura Kressly

Growing global discontent has been the hallmark of 2018, and 2019 is looking even worse. The last few years have marked a rise of the far-right, but theatremakers in opposition are letting audiences know it from the stage. Some of the best shows of this year show anger, fear, uncertainty or simply let the world know that enough is enough – it’s time for a fairer, more peaceful society that pays homage to all of its people.

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Albatross, Gate Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

There aren’t many writers who conjure stories the way Isley Lynn can. Her innate instinct for achingly human characters in situations rarely – if ever – seen on stage sets her well apart from most young playwrights. Her oeuvre includes Skin a Cat, a hilarious and necessary story of a young woman navigating dating and sex whilst unable to be vaginally penetrated, and Tether, the journey of a blind woman and her guide training for a marathon. These intimate stories leave a huge impact when set on stage, their echoes long reverberating with her audiences.

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Trust, Gate Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

A couple who have been together for either 14 years or 3 weeks argues as the world around them threatens to collapse. Or maybe it’s collapsed already. An Uber driver writes a book about the fall of civilisation. A lonely woman in a hotel room surveys her destructive work in the financial sector.

Time passes and bends and flips. Personal and global crises unfold in an endless cycle of pain and rage.

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Eclipsed, Gate Theatre

Issues surrounding modern war and conflict are rarely simple. Feminism certainly isn’t, either. Neither are families, romantic relationships, child soldiers, or individual identity. Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed rolls all of these deeply complex themes into a five-character play set in the Liberian civil war, but does so with brilliant writing and a raw, close-up view of characters in a world torn apart.

Eclipsed focuses almost completely on the lives of the four “wives” of the Commanding Officer of one of the rebel factions, living communally and enjoying a life of privilege. Their privilege consists of not being raped by other soldiers, instead only having to go to the C.O. when he summons them from offstage with booming handclaps. The women enjoy looted clothing, and mostly get along. Though all have names, they refer to each other by their rank: number 1, number 2, and so on, with number 1 being in charge. Number 2’s the outcast of the four as a soldier fighting Charles Taylor’s government, but she still periodically returns to the hut bearing gifts and aggravation. Though they all have lost family and hide their real names, these women feel incredibly privileged because they’re alive, and don’t have to be raped by anyone other than the C.O.

The dialogue flows easily, but was deeply uncomfortable to experience from the position of Western privilege. Moments of levity are stepping stones that prevent the audience from drowning in the bleak circumstances that drive the play. I find this level of audience discomfort is rare in theatre, but one that is absolutely vital. Actually, theatre needs more of it – the majority of regular theatregoers are middle class and have no experience of life in a war zone other than watching the news. These audiences need to be shaken, hard, and reminded that whilst we have lots of nice things in our lives, many more people in the world don’t. Particularly women trying to survive in war zones.

This is, without question, a feminist play. My initial instinct is to say it’s radically feminist, but on reflection I believe that thought came from the exotic “otherness” of the production rather than any particular issue. Childbirth, education and reproductive consent are at the forefront, which are pretty mainstream feminist topics. Sisterhood is ever present, with its bonding and conflict. Less common and utterly horrific is Number 2’s belief that being an armed soldier empowers young women and keeps them safe from rape. The downside is that you then have to kill the enemy and give the surviving women and girls to your side’s own soldiers. Sorry, there’s my privilege showing again.

This otherness also contributes to the excellence of the overall production; I have never seen a play so simultaneously brutal and brilliant. The production values are flawless in that the production needs no alteration or development. It’s raw, in-yer-face, and will linger with you and your privileged guilt for a long time. All five performances are a masterclass in acting. The design is strikingly simple with an inclusive audience arrangement. There are belly laughs. There are moments you feel like your guts are being slowly tugged from your body and your eyes are held open. With all the terror Eclipsed lays bare, it should be a legal requirement for everyone living a comfortable life away from war to see this play. The world would be a better place.

Intention: ☆☆☆☆☆

Outcome: ☆☆☆☆☆

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆


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