An Incident at the Border at Trafalgar Studios
After a roaring success at London’s top fringe venue, the Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court, up-and-coming playwright Kieran Lynn’s new play An Incident at the Border has transferred to the West End – specifically the prestigious Trafalgar Studios – a mere stone’s throw away from Nelson’s statue itself. Studio 2 (the venue for this 80-minute hoot of a play) is a small, comfortable space, only slightly larger than the Finborough, and so a fitting locale for the intimate set that describes some small corner in a park somewhere in the world; its defining features being a bin, a bench and a rather shaggy bush, with the genius touch of a trough of water before the stage suggesting a pond. Cardboard cut-out clouds adorn the back walls, which with the aid of a brilliant lighting palette completely transports us to this serene, natural setting where one of the most unnatural series of events is about to transpire.
Arthur and Olivia are a couple on a relaxing day’s stroll in the park. Suddenly, a black-clad security guard cuts between them, drawing a line with red-and-white caution tape right through the middle of the bench they are sitting on: the Republic has been born, the borders have been re-arranged, and now Arthur sits in a completely different country from Olivia, prevented from returning home by the self-righteous, rule-abiding – although completely moronic – guard and his obsession with his taser. Cue a hilarious, intriguing and thought-provoking debate on the nature of borders and lines, their arbitrary nature and the dangers they create. Olivia quite rightly (if a little needlessly) points out that “Borders create differences”, not only physical, but also emotional ones. The forced separation of her from Arthur begins to take its toll as the couple begin bickering, then arguing, spotting each other’s flaws and beginning to hate what they once quite enjoyed about their other half. All the while our hapless security guard – drawing on his own inefficiencies to give him an inflated sense of self-worth – mindlessly follows instructions from the unseen figure of “George” on the other end of his walkie-talkie, who in turn follows instructions handed down to him by an endless line of politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and advisory committees with no definitive leader to the whole thing.
An Incident at the Border is a well-written play, if a little heavy handed and repetitive with its messages at times, especially in Olivia’s lines – she chides the guard for not aspiring to be an individual and confesses to Arthur that “The line has made me realise a bit about myself”. Tom Bennett does a fantastic job as Arthur, clueless, simple and adorably innocent and funny. Marc Pickering performs a wonderfully comic, though sometimes over-the-top, northern stereotype idiot figure in the role of the guard. Florence Hall also gives a good performance, although hers seems less natural and varied than the others’, displaying some unrealistic and repetitive posing and line delivery which fail to have the desired funny effect – although to be fair, her character is much less comic than the other two’s, and she has the harder job of maintaining the serious tone of the piece. Overall, massive kudos must be given to director Bruce Guthrie, who makes excellent use of the limited and challenging space to keep the audience enthralled, amused and entertained throughout. It’s worth a watch simply for the heart-stoppingly poignant ending, and the fantastic summing-up line: “We’ve gone through all this trouble of drawing the line, we might as well act like it means something!”
Orestes Daniel Kouzof
An Incident at the Border is at Studio 2, Trafalgar Studios, from 20th August until 15th September 2012. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.