Do you ever feel utterly overwhelmed by the constant flow of news, pounded by the endless atrocities hammering away in every corner of the world, drenched by the multifarious media that rains it down incessantly upon you, in all its proliferated forms? If this chimes even a faint, if discordant, chord, Theatre Uncut invites you to connect with the zeitgeist and collect your thoughts around the defining issues of our day.
Created four years ago in response to the coalition government’s misshapen austerity measures, Theatre Uncut each year invites emerging and exciting playwrights to produce short plays that are then made available to be performed – rights free – by anyone, anywhere, all over the world. The aim is ‘to get people thinking and talking about what is going on in the world around them’. Full of humour but with more than a hint of frustration, anger and despair, the five new plays that make up the 2014 programme have already been downloaded by 240 groups and individuals – generating who knows what discussion - across 23 countries.
The first performance was Anders Lustergarten’s The Finger of God, in reference to the Lottery’s pointy digit in the sky that accompanies the ‘it could be you’ intonement of enticement. While a couple of well-to-dos dream up punishments to add a bit of risk and a sense of achievement for those playing the national game, a couple of ne’er-do -wells sit on the other side suffering the consequences. Obeying the possibly immoral though not strictly illegal imperatives of the growth business model, happily allows the powerful to increase the quantity and quality of the bottles of champagne they drink, while the disempowered lose a lot more than their dignity. On the upside, the lucky losers get their five minutes of fame, a moment in the spotlight that brings a sense of purpose to their otherwise worthless existence. The broader bitter truth is that – if you ignore the minor issue of the many being mauled and manipulated for the profit of the few - the public gets what the public wants. So, ultimately, everyone’s a winner!
Pachamama by Clara Brennan was up next, a bizarre piece that verbally and poetically churned cultural attitudes and differences into an unpalatable, surreal stew that feasted on the very real observation that fictitious needs are depleting finite resources. It also raised the question of whether productive play is really the antidote to capitalism. No conclusions were drawn.
The ludicrous (or genius – depending on your political leanings) Bedroom Tax was the focus for Inua Ellams’ Reset Everything. Here, the only apparent practical and rational solution to the problem of the prohibitively expensive spare room was to blow the damn thing up. But was this a spiritual, emotional or political response – or just about benefits? You decide.
Number four on the bill, The Most Horrific by Vivienne Franzmann, was probably the stand-out piece of the night. Accounts of rape, murder and general insidious injustice were recounted in the unmistakeable style of the stand-up comedian. As the horrors mounted up, a bloke on the sidelines judged them according to their comic potential, while centre stage, a couple watched somewhat passively from their sofa, waiting for the narrative conclusion that would allow them to pretend that it’s all alright now. This cleverly crafted piece brought chuckles and chills in equal measure and will no doubt generate much debate.
Finally, Ira Provitt and The Man by Hayley Squires, showed the Minister for Education pulling together his latest set of rigid rules for the new formulaic school curriculum, while his conscience wandered around the chambers of his brain looking for his soul. Though promising, this was perhaps the weakest of what was undoubtedly a very strong set: it was a little preachy, a little obvious and a little flat as a result. It may also have been a little under-rehearsed.
Using democratic means consistent with their ethos, the themes for the 2014 plays had been drawn from the responses of a set of polled participants, as well as various tweeters and twitters. The stated theme running through all five plays was, ‘Knowledge is Power. Knowledge is Change.’ Written as a statement, it nevertheless begs many questions: is the knowledge we are fed informed and impartial; does it make you feel powerful or impotent, paralysed or poised for action; does such knowledge produce change or desensitisation; and what, if anything, can theatre do about any of it? To engage with all this and more, find theatreuncut.com, or follow them on their tour to Glasgow and across England.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 13-15 November
Oran Mor, Glasgow 17-22 November