Spazju Kreattiv saw a play, originally intended for radio, materialise in all its complex and upsetting dystopic implications.
Edward Bond’s 2000 play, Chair, set in a city in 2077, has near-dystopic elements with earlier Orwellian echoes as the small cast all attempt to fit within a totalitarian system that is constructed to terrorise its subjects into submission. The script, which shares stylistic sensibilities with Pinter and Beckett, is emotionally raw and psychologically powerful to the point of oppression. This sensation is intentionally induced within the audience to reflect the tortured and oppressed existence that is the characters’ reality.
In the eyes of the law, Alice (Erica Muscat) has been a criminal for 26 years. Nobody knows until now, but her act of compassion in taking in an unwanted baby is illegal in the totalitarian state she lives in. It is once again compassion, which will expose her and Billie, the secret daughter she has looked after. Billie (Ann-Marie Buckle) is a young woman on the autistic spectrum. Partly on Billie’s insistence and partly out of her curiosity and genuine desire to help, a wary Alice takes a chair out to a bus stop, where a young and equally terrified soldier (Alex Weenink) is escorting a prisoner – an unnamed older woman (Faye Paris).
This act of compassion results in an incident where the soldier, overcome by paranoia that they are all being watched, randomly exposes their situation to the surrounding buildings, missing the never-arriving bus, and allowing the prisoner to make contact with the civilian Alice, and eventually succumb to her injuries. Following this, Alice realises that the exposure will lead the authorities to Billie and devises a plan to attempt to keep her safe and disassociated from her.
Alice has encouraged Billie’s child-like traits by keeping her safe inside their small, crumbling apartment, telling stories which she illustrates with her bright colours – the only colour injected into the otherwise greyscale set. Romualdo Moretti has, as usual, struck the right chord with his intuitive set design, while director Clive Judd made the most of the dilapidated setting enhanced by Chris Gatt’s sound design. Judd’s extremely sharp choices in blocking and character development made for an over-all performance that was choreographed aptly in synch with the extremes of emotion the characters went through. From heightened agitation to subdued introspection, all in the background of the fear felt by the neurotypical characters and the confusion and wonder experienced by Billie, the cast’s dynamic was held at knife’s edge.
‘Chair’ does not make for easy viewing, but it is thought-provoking and reminds us that the destruction of humanity and society are of its own making
Ann-Marie Buckle’s mature and poignant portrayal of Billie brings a reality that few of us care to consider, to a wider audience. Her innocence, coupled with Alice’s strong belief that she should be protected, contrast strongly with Billie’s own desire to break out and away, asserting herself and her independence in a state which denies it completely – especially to those who might be seen as more vulnerable.
This is what fuels Alice’s choice to distance herself from Billie, in order to protect her, but this will ultimately lead in a dual sacrifice on both their parts – resulting in their separation and eventual death. The minor positive caveat is that Billie fully believes she is following Alice’s instructions independently, and thus fulfils her own need for emancipation and gains a modicum of control over her own life.
Erica Muscat’s anxious portrayal of Alice – a woman increasingly finding herself penned in a dangerous corner, is poised and electric, while Alex Weenink’s near-hysterical soldier shows what the state is capable to doing to essentially good people in its service: a soldier afraid.
Faye Paris’s character doubling perfectly exposed the hypocrisy of totalitarianism – a tortured prisoner with no rights and a welfare officer trumpeting the official doctrine. Both Weenink and Paris matched Muscat and Buckle in their very nuanced portrayals of characters living in the fear induced by state control.
Chair does not make for easy viewing, but it is thought-provoking and reminds us, as is the intention behind most dystopic scenarios, that the destruction of humanity and society are of its own making. Inaction is a choice much worse than involvement, and complacency results in a moral death more damning than a physical one.