Splendour at the Donmar Warehouse
Splendour records the fall of a violent dictatorship from inside the dictator’s own home. Unbeknownst to his wife, her defeated best friend, an expectant photojournalist and her devious interpreter, the tyrant has fled. The ensuing situation is one of malicious comments, stretched tempers, suppressed emotions and taut nerves.
What is particularly compelling about this one-scene play is the way writer Abi Morgan uses repetition and multiple perspectives to heighten the tension, filtering the conversation more and more each time and cranking up the panic level in the action. The scene is frozen, rewound and replayed in order for the audience to fully understand what is going on in all the nuances of the haphazard situation, but it is not a tedious or exasperating strategy: Morgan reveals how repetition can be an incredibly captivating use of theatre. It’s like re-reading a book that is too full of intricacies to fully appreciate its brilliance on the first go. Each round reveals more about the characters and their individual powers as the ticking time bomb moves a step closer to explosion.
The four female characters work splendidly together. Civil war is rising on the outside, but behind the magnificent windows of the presidential palace there’s a very different war going on. At the centre of it is the wife, Micheleine, who, despite seeing her world being slowly and tortuously picked apart, poignantly holds onto her dignity and power to the very last. Between her and her broken and lost friend, the passionate photojournalist and the converted Northerner, loyalties are tested and truths forced to the surface. Each must assess her relative position while they await the arrival of something that promises to be very different from what they were expecting. All four actresses show great awareness of the bond that arises as a result of their situation, working off each others’ performances and sustaining the balance of character and tension perfectly. The well-designed staging and direction complement this balance so that the tension fluidly and explicitly builds with the rising violence outside.
Splendour is an enthralling piece of fantastically designed theatre that holds the audience in a clutch of suspense throughout. Morgan shows how both camaraderie and resentment can arise from highly stressed and dangerous environments as people come to terms with their own fears and limits.
Splendour is on at the Donmar Warehouse until 26th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.