Brighton Festival 2014
Hydrocracker Theatre have been an associate company of the Brighton Dome and Festival for several years. This year, rather than a full blown production, the are opting for an opportunity to open up debate and ideas around the themes of an emerging work called Wild Justice.
Rage. Vengeance. Hydrocracker’s ‘provocation’ on the theme of revenge draws in an audience of about a hundred. It is in part panel discussion, part performance, part market research.
The event features some heavy hitting figures in the UK’s peace campaigning landscape: The magnificent Jo Berry, co-creator of the charity Building Bridges For Peace Marina Cantacuzino, founder of The Forgiveness Project and Dr Mark Devenny, philosopher and social commentator. We are promised that we will meet the panelists in due course, but for the moment they are sprinkled amongst us and after a short performed extract of Hamlet and introduction from the Hydrocracker team, we are thrown into our first group activity.
We are asked to think about examples of revenge in popular culture, then invited to introduce ourselves to a stranger and talk about our personal experience with revenge. These moments feel a little rushed. We are then asked to volunteer examples of revenge from contemporary society. A few examples are voiced to the whole forum, then we are ushered swiftly on to the next segment. Two actors enact a scene from the emergent play involving two soldiers who are reflecting on their assassination of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in 1989. One expresses no remorse, the other confesses to moral confusion.
Things eventually begin to get juicy when we are introduced to the panel and the floor is opened to questions on the subject of real acts of revenge in the contemporary landscape: How do we think, for example, about the public execution without trial of Saddam Hussein, the invasion of Afghanistan, the Arab spring etc. Forgiveness is all very well, but are there some circumstances where inequlity is so great that a violent act is the only way to draw attention to ones cause? Suddenly we hit on a rich seam of provocation and the room ignites with debate. It is unfortunate that this conversation is such a brief part of the evening.
Then the momentum slows again as there is a bit more theatre – this time, Jem Wall, the actor playing the unrepentant Ceausescu assassin – takes the hot seat and we are allowed to ask him questions. Again, it feels like things just begin to get interesting and then we have to stop. Time is pressing and there are more things on the list to get through.
It is a tricky thing to make public comment on this event, as I find myself torn between the inherent value of debate on the subject matter and my difficulty with the way in which it was conceived and facilitated. I am left with the feeling that, with the best of intentions, the theatre makers are pulled uncomfortably between the desire to show us what they’ve already made and the need for market research. The audience are charged £8 for the privilege of attending and Arts Council England are thanked at the end. So we are paying for it effectively twice? And what exactly are we paying for? I couldn’t help feeling that the organisers were getting a lot more ‘bang for their buck’ than we were. Perhaps a more minimal fee would have helped us to feel more charitable. Unfortunately what is compromised is serious debate on the complex moral, cultural and social issues that the piece itself is questioning.
In spite of the evening being a bit ill conceived, I’m recommending it because I felt grateful to hear the panel speak and particularly enjoyed hearing Jo Berry in person. Her idea that the path to peace is through a kind of radical empathy rather than forgiveness per se, packs a real punch for me and feels like it adds up to real social change. I recommend checking out her work. The Forgiveness Project are doing amazing work also. I do look forward very much to the play itself and get the sense that the components have the potential to become much more than the sum of their parts. Lets hope so. It feels like timely subject matter.