‘Theatre Uncut’ is a remarkable project. It’s an annual event that invites young playwrights to write a new short play as a response to a specific theme based on current affairs. Not only are these performed together in one evening, but the scripts are posted online for people to read and perform internationally, creating something of a global theatrical dialogue.
This year’s theme is “Knowledge is Power. Knowledge is Change”. Clearly this can be interpreted in a number of ways, leading to five very distinct plays. Some are all encompassing, others more focused. Together, they reflect our current society as an often absurd dystopia. Performed by a superb four-strong cast, with a cleverly designed set and pulsing electronic musical theme between each play, it’s as if watching a TV show of short scenes – like a stage version of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.
With only 10-15 minutes to fill, these plays take on an abstract, poetic feel in order to get their point across. This leads to some especially creative thinking in terms of form and tone, allowing each playwright to experiment in microcosm. Some are more successful than others, but all five plays are gripping and well-constructed.
A couple are perhaps a little heavy-handed. Ira Provitt and The Man from Hayley Squires, for example, provides a tough and serious end to the performance. Focusing on the theme of education, it involves an older education minister being questioned by his own conscious, taking the form of a young man. The argument between them is intense and explores differing views on the future of education, but it lacks the subtle finesse of the earlier pieces. Vivienne Franzmann’s The Most Horrific, looks at the role of the media, its sensationalism and voyeurism. Particularly effective are the attempts at humour by a fledgling stand-up comedian, though her jokes reel off a whole list of horrific global and personal issues. That said, it does feel at times like an exhortation, and the juxtaposition with a couple at home watching the news isn’t always clear.
What links the first three plays is a great sense of black humour. Anders Lustgarten’s The Finger of God uses the National Lottery to mock class divides and the benefits system. The privileged organisers of the lottery sip wine over a posh meal – numbers of lottery players are down so they decide to impose punishments on those who take part to, paradoxically, encourage more people to play. The lower classes, however, play along despite the danger: desperate, addicted and used as sport as bizarre as the Hunger Games. Inua Ellams ridicules bedroom tax in Reset Everything. Thrown together into a single room, the various characters represent the differing views of social issues (the spiritual problem, the personal problem, the political problem), whilst the bomb in the centre reflects a desire to rid ourselves of such over-complication and start afresh. Then there’s Clara Brennan’s PACHAMAMA that balls together all the world’s problems into a cosmic, cataclysmic disaster – imposing, inescapable and thrilling.
Not only do these plays highlight major world issues, the use of humour adds a layer of subtlety, enjoyment and tangibility. Rather than preaching about problems, we can therefore take a step back and see how absurd they are in the first place. None of the five plays offers a solution, but they provide a thought-provoking starting point for further discussion.
Watch: ‘Theatre Uncut’ runs in London at the Soho Theatre until 30th November, before continuing its UK tour into December.
Pictures courtesy of Jeremy Abrahams.