by Vivienne Franzmann.
Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 30 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45 Mat Thu, Sat 3.30pm run sold out.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS 020 7565 -5000.
Review: Carole Woddis 25 June.
Vivid, if awkward, reflections from the war-zone.
When the media circus has moved on, what – or who – is left behind? That is the burning question Vivienne Franzmann poses in her latest play, The Witness.
News and war correspondents bear a heavy responsibility when it comes to translating world conflicts. The horrors they see can leave them with lasting scars.
Franzmann whose debut play, Mogadishu, also looked at the impact of media – on impressionable teenagers – takes as her start this time a fictional British photo-journalist whose iconic picture of a young Rwandan girl crying in the midst of a family massacre becomes, like the famous napalm photo of a young girl in Vietnam, an award-winning symbol of human atrocity.
Joseph, the photographer in question – played with wonderfully raddled, chaotic charm by Danny Webb – however went one step further. He brought the young girl, Alex, back and brought her up as his own daughter.
Now a student at Cambridge, Alex (the up-and-coming Pippa Bennett-Warner) is beginning to have stirrings of discomfort about her identity. Like Kayode in Bola Agbaje’s Belong, Alex is prey to confusions; brought up in one culture but sensing another story lying dormant in her DNA.
Cue the entry of the brother she never knew she had, and revelations surrounding Joseph’s taking of her photo.
Franzmann unfortunately leaves the play’s punch far too late, while her dramaturgy often feels contrived. Joseph’s suspect motives seem drawn from the sceptics’ handbook of rancid hacks whilst Simon, the long lost Rwandan brother, is all too luminously noble and honourable.
Yet, despite its reductive, simplistic analysis, The Witness remains thought-provoking and important.
Where war correspondents are often portrayed as heroes. Franzmann’s admirable aim is to get inside the belly and explore the personal costs of `telling the world’, from both exploiter’s and exploited’s points of view.
For that alone – and there is much else to admire in Simon Godwin’s fast-paced production, Lizzie Clachan’s amazing immersive sitting room set and especially Danny Webb’s portrayal of the unpleasantly complex and conscience stricken Joseph – The Witness is to be welcomed as another awkward exposé in the grand Royal Court tradition.
Joseph: Danny Webb.
Alex: Pippa Bennett-Warner.
Simon: David Ajala.
Director: Simon Godwin.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Voice coach: Michaela Kennen.
Assistant director: Rosy Banham.
The Witness was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs on 1 June 2012 and is part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme, supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
Vivienne Franzmann’s commission was supported by funds from the Olivier Foundation.