- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Timothy Bano
The phrase ‘theatrical experience’ is frequently misused, often deployed when a reviewer is incapable of describing that they have just seen.I shall therefore refrain from describing The Bomb as an experience, in an attempt to conserve perceptions of my own intelligence. It was instead a series of 10 short plays, brought together into two performances, First Blast: Proliferation and Second Blast: Present Dangers, that thoroughly intrigued and at points confused.
The Bomb was the last great offering directed by Nicolas Kent at the Tricycle in Kilburn, having resigned as the director of the theatre. The two parts of the performance were offered on alternating nights, or both on a Saturday. I opted for the latter experience, hoping to get a better sense of the whole – if, that is, a whole existed.
The long, multi-play form is indeed difficult to understand as a whole together, with each play written by a different playwright. One, Seven Joys by Lee Blessing, presented the ‘nuclear club’ literally, and for laughs. The next, however, explored India’s approach to nuclear armament with tense realism and palpable pessimism. The change was jarring, and obviously meant to be. Each engaging short was played out in front of three towering screens and between the plays newsreel footage was projected onto them to set the scene of the next.
The superb cast were incredibly versatile, moving between accents and characters seamlessly, and only a few lines were fluffed in the whole five hours of performance. Indeed, it was sometimes difficult to recognise one actor from one scene to the next, so fully did they inhabit a new costume, voice, and physicality.
Unlike The Great Game Afghanistan, another Tricycle production which used a similar form, The Bomb unfortunately lacked an obvious progression from one play to the next. The Great Game moved through time, from the early colonisation to the present day – The Bomb had only the last 70 years to cover. As a result the progression, particularly in the second half, was geographical rather than historical. Germany, Israel, Iran, North Korea, Switzerland, the US, Britain, India, the Ukraine, China… The message was global.
Perhaps the disjunction between the plays was intentional, mirroring the incongruity that any discussion of nuclear weapons provokes. David Greig’s contribution, The Letter of Last Resort, put forward the question of retaliation in fraught, farcical logic that highlighted the difficulty there is in talking about the bomb. The whole production articulated that problem – the determination to bring up the subject was there, but there could be no plan on how to proceed. Each play was a starting point because, unlike with Afghanistan, nuclear weapons are still a discussion we are failing to have. Zinnie Harris’s plays began and ended The Bomb, and though her scientists had by the end exchanged tweed for hazmat suits, as they re-trod their steps across the boards, their conversation had barely changed at all. Rather than a hollow ending to Kent’s tenure at the Tricycle, the emptiness only emphasised how there is still a place for political theatre that will ask questions we can’t answer. Yet.
PHOTO/United States Department of Energy