Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Matt Wieteska directs his own play in which science has discovered that mankind has three decades left before the Earth becomes uninhabitable. Mayflower Industries (presumably named after the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship) has found a new planet – Ithaca – for colonisation, and ships have been sent to start the work. Wieteska’s play shows the experiences of one of the crew members who returns home – having realised that Ithaca isn’t all it seems – to expose the lies.
Winston – the everyday hero’s name made famous and/or popular by George Orwell – is a man carrying a heavy burden. He has the news that humanity’s last great hope is a fraud and a sham. The problem is whether or not he blows the whole thing open by telling his journalist friend. Wieteska chooses to show two strands of this man’s story at almost the same time, by having Winston talk to Kate the journalist while having flashbacks to his time with helpful Donna on the ship that reached Ithaca.
The production only falls down on keeping those two strands separate. There are subtle lighting changes between scenes, which tell an observant viewer that time has lapsed (or relapsed), but nothing that makes it quite obvious enough. However, the flashbacks themselves are well-judged, inserted at just the right moments to explain or illustrate the parts of the story Winston has just told Kate. Just enough backstory is revealed each time to keep it interesting and to keep an audience thinking and putting things together.
There’s something about the wooden bits of set – wooden boards and crates – that smacks of a people on the run from some approaching Apocalypse. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but there’s something, something also captured in the actions of Winston and Donna as impending doom hangs over them and their world. The look of the piece slides effortlessly into the idea of a planet’s worth of people swarming outwards, away to escape whatever’s coming their way.
Nick Kay is very convincing as the hunted man who hides the secret of Ithaca. His occasional twitches and shouts betray him as a basically decent man on the edge. Understandably, as what he knows could set off a revolution on Earth; the police state enforcing curfews would be hard-pressed to keep control once Winston has exposed their blatant, deliberate dishonesty.
That’s where Wieteska’s script opens up a fascinating, tricky debate and asks some hard questions. Is it better to let the doomed people hope they have a chance of surviving, or do they have a right to know that they’ve been lied to? Should they be given hope, or the truth? Could they face the truth if they knew it?
‘Escape’ isn’t long enough to go into any of these things in depth (being twenty minutes shorter than its advertised time), but leaves an audience with plenty to mull over afterwards.