THE SHAPE OF THE TABLE
by David Edgar.
Cockpit Theatre Gateforth Street NW8 8EH In rep to 29 November 2014.
7.30pm 27, 29 Nov.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7258 2825.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 November.
The processes live on – only the names have changed.
Earliest of the three David Edgar plays concerning events post collapse of the Soviet Union and now reheated by North Carolina’s Burning Coal Theatre as ‘The Iron Curtain Trilogy’, The Shape of the Table (1990) is also the one most resembling a lesson in politics; the least coated in a dramatic sugar of action.
It is a political discussion analysing tensions when popular uprisings, no longer suppressed by threat of the Red Army invading, lead a totalitarian regime to negotiate with its formerly tame opposition and banned politicians. The title refers to the way substantive negotiations can’t get underway, while different elements argue over seating priorities (a useful reminder of why King Arthur’s knights sat in a non-hierarchic circle).
The fitful process is mirrored in Jerome Davis’s revival less by the huge table dominating the central stage changing shape, as by its being dismantled. At first, Brian Linden’s dissident Pavel sits alone at a huge monolithic table. Brought straight to political HQ from prison, he’s learned a humorous caution in speech. As other suppressed groups and government enter for discussions, the table’s cloth is whipped away to reveal the table’s mighty unity as an assemblage of smaller, separate elements.
As democratic discussions ensue, these are moved into a less monolithic formation before being removed, leaving bare reality to be faced, summed-up as former leader Victor Spassov warns Prus of how, incrementally, a new leader becomes separated physically and hence psychologically from the people he sets-out wanting to represent. As the ruler whose power is ending, Marc Carver’s Kaplan has the posture and manner of a democratic leader used to complex negotiations rather than the head of an autocratic society, though he makes the tides of power clear.
And the sudden fury of Maggie Lea’s secretary Victoria at Spassov’s compromises hits home with the human hopes behind political negotiation. It’s a moment that shows Edgar’s command of complex material and its human significance. Equally, he captures the weary realisation underlying politicians’ grand names, anthems and political slogans as glorious-sounding events are commemorated in the names of rooms, spoken with barely-disguised mockery.
Pavel Prus: Brian Linden.
Petr Vladislav: Thaddeus Walker.
Joseph Lutz: Tim X Davis.
Michael Kaplan: Marc Carver.
Jan Milev: Jeff Aguiar.
Andre Zietek: Jon Fitts.
Jan Matkovic: Brook North.
Victor Spassov: Randolph Curtis Rand.
Bishop: Rajeev Rajendran.
Minister of Defence: Greg Paul.
Social Democrat: Matthew Lubin.
Monica Freie: Hope Hynes Love.
Youth Leader: Joey Heyworth.
Vera Rousova: Julie Oliver.
Victoria Brodskaya: Maggie Lea.
Director: Jerome Davis.
Designer: Matthew Haber.
Lighting: Matthew Adelson.
Sound/Composer: John Heitzenrater.
Dialect coach: Kirby Wahl.
Dramaturg: Marshall Botvinik.
Assistant director: Stephen M Eckert.
Assistant designer: Fiona Kearns.