Wednesday, 7 September 2011

truth and reconciliation (w&d debbie tucker green)

The upstairs space in the Court has been transformed into a large theatre in the round. The chairs are wooden and plain. Several have signs on them advising they are delegated for family members. On stage are more chairs, lots of them, some laid out in neat rows, others scattered randomly. The show starts when a South African family walk on stage, a mother, her mother, and her two children. The mother refuses to sit down. The rest of the family tell her to, but she refuses. A Zimbabwean couple join them on stage. They are bickering. We don't really understand why. A Rwandan family appears. They too are arguing. Later, two men and two women from both Bosnia and Northern Ireland will appear. All these actors are participating in a process of truth and reconciliation.

Gradually the situations of the individual groups become clearer. But the process remains opaque. On occasions it's hard to tell who's done what to whom. Everything is messy and complicated. Every aspect of the process assumes a significance. Who sits where. Who talks to whom. Who looks at whom. These are not situations that require any ramping up of the dramatic stakes. The drama, conflict, call it will you will, is there, tangible in every instant of the play's brief 65 minutes. The writing doesn't try and capture the full horror of what has gone before in these countries, although it offers hints. It doesn't pretend to be all-encompassing. And is all the stronger for it. This is about the aftermath of conflict. The awkward, fiddly, painful process of trying to find the words with which to speak to the enemy.

Green's language is as precise as her staging. Sometimes the dialogue is machine-gun; sometimes hesitant. Every word has a weight. The characters try to resist becoming photofit images of victims. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail. A Rwandan widow betrays herself through her breathing; the South African mother continues to refuse to sit down. At the end the ghosts come out to play.

This is neither a "well worked play" nor an experimental piece. It is simply hypnotic writing which offers the viewer an insight into how history works. Debbie Tucker Green captures the speech patterns of five nations; she also captures the speech patterns of grief, anger and obstinacy. At a time when plays which try to look at the "big picture" seem to be back in vogue, her precision makes every moment seem to count tenfold, packing more into an hour than most do in three. Kudos as well to the Court for letting her direct her own work: writing this good needs a director who understands the value of every word.

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