Brighton Fringe 2018
A year on, almost to the day, from the Manchester Arena attack, this poignant, contemporary, powerfully evocative play asks some uncomfortable questions. ‘Critical Threat’ is a new drama originating from Printers Playhouse written and directed by John Berry dynamically and atmospherically performed by a strong ensemble cast in the fabulous outdoor space that is the BOAT.
Printers Playhouse Productions aim to produce ‘impact’ theatre. This may be easily achieved in their own 60 seat studio space in Eastbourne but is harder here in the outdoors, especially when there’s a barbecue on one side of the hedge and a five year old’s tea party on the other! A stiff, easterly cold wind demanded an extra layer or three, so all the more credit to a spirited cast for immersing us in their story.
The premise is that this is 2017 and ‘Operation Temperer’ has put UK troops on the streets. Concert attacks, terrorists in white vans running over civilians, the new frontline is seen as being right here, on our doorstep. The media ask pertinent questions, ministers need to make sense of it. More is needed than ‘thoughts and prayers’, they need action, results. So the military get called in. Personified in four squaddies, themselves from mixed and varied backgrounds, trying to understand, in their own way, how their training has led to this… and caught between the press, the politicians and the army is the police, embodied in a captivating and utterly truthful performance from Viv Berry, her character simply billed, in Brechtian Style, as ‘Police’. But this is no two dimensional characterisation, her own personal loss is beautifully unravelled in a finely judged, restrained performance. Typical of the piece, the initially unsympathetic character of ‘Politician’ is given depth and vulnerability by Rachael McCarron, playing the game for just so long, but ultimately giving in to the humane side of her nature. The four soldiers at the heart of the piece are given names, but are equally generic, Eleanor Stourton as ‘James’ is guttural, plain speaking and matching the lads at every step, Benjamin Taylor as ‘Macca’ is blessed with a natural presence and edge and you can see the hurt in his voice and feel the pain in his eyes. Ross Smith is utterly truthful, and believable as ‘Benoy’, the dimwit of the pack, the butt of the jokes, but never a cardboard parody, we feel for him too as we do for ‘Berry’, the grandson of a victim of an earlier tragedy, neatly linking past to present and in so doing, asking how much have we learned. Perhaps, writer John Berry suggest, not enough.
It is great to see Brighton Fringe and BOAT hosting such socio-political content and promoting new writing. John Berry directs in epic style, breaking the fourth wall and physicalising action, his soldiers multi-role playing as the angry mob, and although one might wish for a clearer narrative, it may not always be neat, it is refreshing to see a piece that doesn’t present a take on something that simply reinforces our own beliefs but asks questions of its audience and makes us shift in our seats at the conclusion. The sort of play that one needs to take a long walk afterwards to digest. Thinking theatre. Highly recommended.