by Dawn King.
Out of Joint Tour to 16 February 2014.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 November at Oxford Playhouse.
Ciphers, not to a great account.
Playwright Dawn King made a big impact with her Finborough Theatre play Foxfinder, Blanche McIntyre (Foxfinder’s director) is one of the most perceptive young directors around, and Out of Joint a theatre company commissioning scripts which examine tensions and dark areas within society with a rare depth and directness. Yet here, all together, they’ve drawn a blank.
Of course they’re not creating a spy thriller. The point might be that spying, like trench warfare, is nine parts tedium to one of intense danger. As espionage newcomer Justine sits patiently alone in a room listening-in to conversations, the routine is apparent, while it becomes evident there’s a career ladder in the shadows as much as in any business organisation.
The doubling of each actor’s roles has an evident significance in this world of deception and manipulation, though it’s only really Gráinne Keenan’s two female spies where this reflects on parallel experiences, contrasted hierarchically as Kerry is pushed into sex with her older Russian controller, Justine subjected to a coolly-suited female boss straight out of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls.
Nothing wrong with an analytical rather than narrative-driven focus, nor in an approach more cerebral than visceral. But the question remains, what’s the play for? The mundane nature of much modern espionage has been familiar from John Le Carré on, while the psychological impulses that drive people into, and keep them involved in, the trade has been delineated more clearly in spy novels, and a wider strand of 20th-century literature going back to Graham Greene.
More pointedly, newspapers have been telling more complex stories recently. This greyed-out world of anonymous sliding panels, given brief subdued colour only by a bereaved father clearing the leaves in his garden, seems simplistic by the side of contemporary spy events, in which Chelsea (ex-Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden emerge as insistent truth-tellers with most to fear from their ‘own’ sides, while security figures watch as a newspaper editor has a hard-drive of secrets smashed.
With such full-blooded realities around in Western democracies, Ciphers – for all its smoothly-told, coolly and skilfully-acted production – seems even more insubstantial.
Koplov/Peter: Bruce Alexander.
Kai/Kareem: Ronny Jhutti.
Justine/Kerry: Gráinne Keenan.
Sunita/Anoushka: Shereen Martin.
Director: Blanche McIntyre.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting: Gary Bowman.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Dialect coach: Vitaly Rhubchenko.
Translators: Teresa Cherfas, Jamie Ballard.
6-9 Nov Wed, Thu, Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
12-16 Nov 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm Traverse Theatre (Traverse 1) Edinburgh 0131 228 1404 www.traverse.co.uk
19-23 Nov 7.30pm Warwick Arts Centre Coventry 024 7652 4524 www.warwickartscentre.co.uk
14 Jan- 8 Feb Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 22, 29 Jan, 5 Feb 2.30pm Audio-described 1 Feb 2.30pm; Captioned 24 Jan Bush Theatre London 0208 743 5050 www.bushtheatre.co.uk
12-16 Feb Salisbury Playhouse 01722 320333 www.salisburyplayhouse.com