by Eve Leigh.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 20 December 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 December.
Communication under pressure adeptly developed.
In his play Cahoot’s Macbeth Tom Stoppard quotes the joke about Soviet policemen going around in threes – one who can read, one who can write, and one to keep an eye on the two intellectuals. In her first full-length (if that’s what 75 minutes is) play, Eve Leigh starts from a similar absurdity of totalitarianism. The supposedly humanitarian prison system provides a library for prisoners. But prison officers are not allowed to use it. They might get ideas.
Yet human inclinations can breach even the toughest system, as is seen when prisoner Gavriil is interviewed by Yurchak. The prisoner’s freedom lies in his knowledge of books, and the stories fiction, poetry and history tell. Yurchak is bound by the one-dimensional morality and realism of the society in which he operates, becoming increasingly fascinated with his prisoner’s stories, if not with the points to which Gavriil ties them. It’s an extended variant of people who keep quoting Shakespeare without realising that’s what they’re doing.
And Leigh’s central characters are both, to an extent, hoist with their own petard. The idea that fiction widens the sense of experience is not new,; nor is the idea that life sometimes needs sustaining with lies – even Henrik Ibsen was ambiguous about his truth-telling doctor in An Enemy of the People, a play which he followed with the counter-argument of The Wild Duck.
But Leigh intelligently makes the point in relation to the most serious challenge the 20th-century threw-up to leisurely, humane thought on the matter. Prison islands had existed before, and there have been too many cases of psychosis being mistaken for criminality. But Stalin’s Soviet tyranny (and Leigh is working from a case out of that experience) made a system out of sending dissidents to remote asylums which effectively became silent planets, worlds of their own, labelling the intellectuals mad and putting the criminals in charge of them.
She develops the situation, keeping the conviction that this could be happening, even when some of the fictional origins of Gavriil’s stories bring recognition and momentary laughter for audience members, assisted by two strong central performances.
Gavriil: Graeme McKnight.
Yurchak: Matthew Thomas.
Guard: Aaron Vodovoz.
Doctor: Kevin Hand.
Director: Tom Mansfield.
Designer: Petra Hjortsberg.
Lighting: Rachel Bottomley.
Sound: Duncan Grimley.
Movement: Jennifer Jackson.
Assistant director: Daniel Bailey.