ON THE RECORD
by Christine Bacon and Noah Birksted-Breen.
Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 13 August 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 30m.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 July.
Theatre at its best showing journalism at its best.
This piece indicates the difference between dictatorship and democracy. Upset a dictatorship and you could end up dead. In a democracy it’s just your career they try to kill. Each of the people whose words form this play have fought to reveal the truth, from American press photographer Zoriah Miller in Iraq, refusing to suppress photos, to Mexican Lydia Cacho, publishing books exposing the rich and famous for involvement with child sex. – thereby bringing herself a terrifying 20 hours up to the moment of death.
She survived, because she’d become too famous to kill; a similar point to one made at the end of Sidney Pollack’s 1975 film Three Days of the Condor. It emphasises the importance of honesty in journalism: for truth to survive someone has to tell it. In Sri Lanka the brave Wickrematunge brothers continue to reveal corruption in ‘The Sunday Leader’ despite threats. Their story makes for an ending where, ironically in a piece about words, their absence becomes overwhelmingly eloquent. As the characters whose stories have intertwined throughout assemble for a final word, it’s the silent presence of the silenced man that packs a final punch.
Such material is riveting, but knife-edge to handle. Any flaw in performance sinks sympathy for the character; overblown theatricality smears the account with insincerity. But Michael Longhurst’s direction is exemplary, providing enough movement to give variety, but leaving the floor to six fine actors who embody their characters’ different manners and inhabit their sense of purpose without any sense of forcing personality or pleading a case.
For it is, as Israeli Amira Hass says not these people but the reality they encounter that’s extreme. In countering it, they defend victims of injustice – Lydia is spurred on by the trust of the sexually abused girls who’ve told her their stories – and the general population, by fighting against a supine, self-censoring media that manufactures consent by adopting an “official language that encourages people not to know”.
Not these people; not this language, as writers Christine Bacon and Noah Birkstead-Breen and Ice and Fire theatre’s production ensure in a gripping, revelatory event.
Lydia Cacho: Nathalie Armin.
Amira Hass: Kika Markham.
Elena Kostyuchenko: Michelle Bonnard.
Zoriah Miller: Trevor White.
Llal Wickrematunge: Paul Bhattacharjee.
Lasantha Wickrematunge: Selva Rasalingam.
Director: Michael Longhurst.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting: Anna Watson.
Sound: David McSeveney.
Video: Ian William Galloway.
Movement: Anna Morrissey.
Dialect coach: Martin McKellan.
Assistant director: Ben Smith.
Assistant designer: Katie Bellman