Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Chagos is an island in the Seychelles. It was once British but was gifted to the United States in a deal that was supposed to help strengthen their campaign in Vietnam. History may tell us that it didn’t but it has also buried the manner in which this former colony was given over after nearly 2,000 inhabitants were forced off the island. The methods used to intimidate and force them out are as distasteful now as they should have been scandalous at the time. We get a mixed narrative that jumps about the 5 hour meeting held between British and American officials that, through poisoning their faithful hounds, they managed to get the people of Chagos to leave their homes and let the Americans get on with it.
The formula used to tell the story is one which takes it down a route that is not entirely successful. We begin with Chagos natives who are sweltering in the heat. From there we get the British stiff upper lip stereotypes who are incompetent and in fear of an American who is just fury and bluster. Both have an unfeeling air which means there is little light and shade. Coupled with the fast forward, fall back structure of the play it is often hard to keep a handle on what is happening or likely to happen next.
The actors are straining every sinew to be the people who have lost their moral compass, but we get black rather than grey at times. When they are afraid, they are really afraid. The thing is, that when they are being subtle, they are really rather good. Pulling things back a notch or three would show their abilities more than some of the blunderbuss approaches to scene development.
Whilst the script structure doesn’t help, the venue hinders a wee bit too much too. The set of the two tables makes directing within that space even more awkward and I felt for some of the actors doing their best to suavely enter and leave whilst not bumping into the furniture. A little think about the space – the two doors and the tables especially – would have helped.
This is a fascinating story and they have managed to get the idea of the horror of the story across so there are clearly successful minds at work in here. There were scenes that worked well, there are actors who have a real presence onstage and the line up at the end where they just about managed to squeeze onstage showed they have a decent support network in place. It’s a good show and there are plenty of things to like about it but there are clear gaps which could do with being filled as they have potential to achieve much better.