B at the Royal Court Theatre
Marcela and Alejandra want to plant a bomb; so too does Jose Miguel. What kind of bomb – sorry cow (or is it cheese?) – however, is up for debate.
The early scenes of Guillermo Calderón’s B, in a translation by William Gregory, have a Four Lions vibe. Bumbling wannabe terrorists (Aimee Ffion-Edwards and Danusia Samal) try and fend off a nosy neighbour (Sarah Niles) while attempting to appear professional in front of their paramilitary comrade (Paul Kaye). Things get more serious – and sort of don’t – as the play moves on, with Calderón asking whether there is any value in non-violent protest, or if the spilling of blood is the only way to bring about radical change?
Suspended in a web of metal, Chloe Lamford’s set looks like a floating cell, the bare concrete and wooden panelling of an unfinished apartment block combined with the soullessness of a prison. It’s a drab, grey space to match the flatness of Calderón’s dialogue, which errs towards numbing pedantry and dead-eyed exchanges.
His writing is awkward in a way that initially seems unintentional. That is, until he starts to produce a string of urgent monologues, whose weird tonal clash with the normal dialogue is heightened by the sudden, but faint, thrum of Teho Teardo’s compositions. The characters find an eloquence entirely absent from their usual interactions, as if they are free to speak truthfully when not suffocated by the restrictions of conversation.
Calderón shuffles up to some unique ideas about change without ever really getting his hands dirty. The fact the two younger terrorists are woman in and of itself is notable, as blowing things up is a historically male pastime. That the older, more ideologically violent, member of the cell is a man also helps suggest a gendered, not just generational, divergence, one that is frustratingly only fleeting touched upon.
The various approaches and motivations of the three terrorists aren’t really probed either. They are emphatically stated, sure, and the moments in which Ffion-Edwards, Samal and Kaye deliver these monologues are the best of the play. But they are always followed by stilted conversations, laden with euphemistic wordplay, that show no interest in interrogating what’s just been said.
For much of the performance director Sam Pritchard employs minimal movement to match Calderon’s text. Even in moments of panic the actors are incredibly measured in how they behave. There is one directorial flourish at the end of the play, but it doesn’t really come off; what should be a moment of chaos, a splintering with what has gone before, falls flat, an abstracted explosion utterly lacking in oomph. Which, actually, is a pretty apt description of the play itself.
Photo: Helen Murray
B is at the Royal Court Theatre from 28th September until 21st October 2017. For further information or to book visit the Royal Court Theatre website here.