City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

War In America, Former Royal High School, Review

By Erin Roche - Posted on 02 June 2017

Imogen Reiter (Judiit) Mark O Neill  (Alfred) and Andrew Cameron (Mr  Fox) Photo Greg Macvean.jpg
Show Details
The Attic Collective
Susan Worsfold (director), Catrin Sheridan (creative producer), Cait Irvine (musician/composer), Charlie West (musician/composer/firearms specialist), Graham Raith (lighting designer), Heath Mclusky (lighting technician), Andy McInnes (lighting technician), Robin Sanders (site manager),
Connor McLeod (Mr Slype), Andrew Cameron (Mr Fox), Mark O'neill (Alfred), Kirsty Punton (Ms Warp), Megan Fraser (Ms Warp), Ellen Aitken (Ms Webb), Hannah Bradley (Ms Webb), Saskia Ashdown ("She" Leila), Imogen Reiter ("A Girl" Judit), John Spilsbury (Wisden), Malachi Reid (Muntu), Cait Irvine (Holey Badd), Lewis Gribben (Jonny), Elsa Strachan (Starlight), Sally Cairns (Female Security Guard), Toby Williams (Male Security Guard), Adam Butler (Male Security Guard), Sally Cairns (firearms specialist)

“State of the Nation: Men In Suits Pissing,” the opening statement echoes around the room.
Director Susan Worsfold’s War In America starts off with an emphatic bang (pun intended). Written by Jo Clifford in 1996, this blackly comedic commentary on the decline of global capitalism sets the tone with effective staging. Fittingly site-specific, the "theatre" is the debating chamber within the Former Royal High School/New Parliament House, the actors orbiting the room and engaging the audience in what at first seems to be a story of a European democracy in decay, but ultimately transcends to be political satire on a global scale. A female leader is emerging, America is burning, and power struggles run amok.

Many key moments happen in the centre of this arena, with the audience circling the heads of state, political dueling shown as, at best, a boxing match and, at worst, a gladiatorial battle. Dialogue and many physical scenes are appropriately irreverent, but at times verging on aimlessly lewd, the metaphor getting lost in a script that needs paring down. Statement-wrought monologues derive new and weighty meaning in the light of today’s political climate, but the plot drowns a bit when it attempts to compete with that. This rebirth of War In America needs more finesse in navigating both a high-concept and story-driven production, made a tad muddled in this imagining. However, the choice to perform this piece at this point in our world’s governmental narrative is evocative. The overarching feeling is that, although this was written over twenty years ago, it will feel immediate to every audience member in different moments throughout the piece. Characters shouting, “Don’t be poor, don’t be old” hits especially hard as we see the currently Trumped American regime threatening to end health care coverage for 24 million people in the United States. Ultimately, “Be Kind” are the closing words that are universally unifying.

Dare I say deliberately dressed in a notorious blue suit, slimy, perverted, immoral, ginger-haired Mr. Fox (played confidently by Andrew Cameron) introduces the main struggle with, “Let that woman become our leader and we are done for.” In contrast, compelling Saskia Ashdown, depicting complex female leader “She” (Leila), with her natural hair periodically emerging beneath a sleek blond wig, seems to be representing specific and current American political figures, as well. The Attic Collective, as a theatre company for emerging artists, proves its mission in its casting here.

The music, by Cait Irvine and Charlie West is a necessary component, suspenseful and campy. It’s especially thoughtful in the recurring moments between ageing and apathetic leader Wisden (John Spilsbury) and the personification of the struggling working class in Muntu (Malachi Reid), these intermittent exchanges swelling to become more meaningful throughout the piece.

In a final moment, the presence of soldiers with assault weapons is intrinsic to the message, but admittedly unsettling in light of the upswing of theatre massacres in recent years. War In America was commissioned by the Royal Lyceum Theatre in 1993, but was ultimately rejected on the grounds of it being 'too offensive.' With today’s political rhetoric, it fits right in. Overwhelming topical, I suggest you see The Attic Collective’s War In America while it’s still a farce.

24-27 May