Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Kent’

Who says theatre doesn’t confront the issues of the day? For the second evening running, it is – this time a verbatim piece about the radicalisation of young people. I feel privileged to live in a country where I can see such things.

Gillian Slovo interviewed people affected by or involved in this issue, most notably school children in Tower Hamlets and mothers in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, much in the news since the recent Paris and Brussels incidents. Add to this political & religious leaders, military & police figures and others in the community and you have a lot of perspectives to present in ninety minutes. What comes out is a pretty objective look at the issue. I found the testimony of the school children particularly revelatory and the Belgian mothers deeply moving. It certainly helps you understand how we’ve got to where we have, but sadly not to see any solutions.

Director Nicholas Kent, the master of such work, provides a simple staging with just a few chairs in front of a highly effective video wall by Duncan McClean. A cast of thirteen convey the words and feelings of some eighteen people. I found it more cerebral than the more emotional Boy the evening before, partly because of the style of this type of theatre and partly because of the complexity of the issues, but the mothers still got to me in the end.

Nicholas Kent’s track record in using theatre to show us what others don’t and can’t is second to none and it’s great to have him back and great that the National has given him a high profile stage to put such work on. Long may it continue.


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Here I am again, less than 12 hours after leaving the Tricycle Theatre, hearing news that could just as easily have been part of what I’d seen earlier. I suspect there is no other theatre in the world using its stage to present an objective debate about the issues of our time and their historical perspective. This time, the bomb and its ‘Proliferation’ from 1940 to the early 90’s and its ‘Present Dangers’ – the last 10 years (and forward three).

These ten short plays, and thirteen verbatim interview extracts, take us from wartime Whitehall, where German and Austrian scientists in exile present a startling discovery to the UK government, to recent IAEA inspections in Iran. In between, we visit the 1945 Potsdam Conference, an Indian nuclear facility, post-independence Ukraine, the White House, Pyongyang and the UN.

For me, the highlights were Lee Blessing’s Seven Joys, set in a fictitious club of nuclear nations, and David Greig’s chilling yet funny The Letter of Last Resort, set in 2015 in Downing Street on the first day of our next PM. This latter play simply but brilliantly shows us the rationale (or not) for The Deterrent like a scene from Yes, Prime Minister (which it acknowledges).

Yet again, I learnt so much whilst (yes, it’s true!) being entertained. This is equal measure education, debate, drama and entertainment and if that isn’t a theatrical  achievement, I don’t know what is. In two parts and just four hours playing time, Nicholas Kent’s compelling staging  flows seamlessly on Polly Sullivan’s simple but effective set, with a superb video design from Douglas O’Connell.

Eleven excellent actors each play between two and five of the forty roles and enact the thirteen verbatim statements. Belinda Lang and Simon Chandler were superb in the Grieg play as were Daniel Rabin and Rick Warden, who played the exiled scientists in the two Zinnie Harris plays which frame the whole piece.

A suitably appropriate swan song for Nicholas Kent. I can think of no other person who has made theatre as relevant in modern times, taking plays about the history of Afghanistan into the Pentagon and about events in our own country into Parliament. Within months of the August 2011 riots, they were objectively and forensically examined on this very stage. From the man in Row G, sir, I salute you.

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