The Pit, London EC2

Opened 19 March, 2007

Playwright David Greig's enduring fascination is with identity: not the old truth/illusion trope, but how we construct who we are, how we use external frameworks (interpersonal, financial, political) to validate our various modalities of thought. In his early days with the Suspect Culture company, he would deconstruct the drama itself; more recently, with pieces like The Cosmonaut's Last Message... and The American Pilot, he has deftly interwoven the personal and the broader-world aspects. Europe, dating originally from 1994 and now revived in association with Dundee Rep, is of the latter kind.

In a nameless small town near the shifting frontier between nameless countries, the railway station has become redundant: open borders mean no stopping for border controls, so the trains no longer stop. Stationmaster Fret tries to keep going through the bureaucratic motions, while his assistant Adele dreams of journeying to the trains' magical-sounding destinations. Their respective senses of self are catalysed by the arrival in the waiting room of two refugees (from what? from where?), just waiting without hope or expectation of a train or anything else. These incomers in turn become scapegoats for local resentment at the economic downturn, emblematised in the laying-off of Adele's husband Berlin.

Europe: at various times it is the dreamed-of better life elsewhere, the exotic, the new opportunities for trade symbolised by international huckster Morocco; it is also who and where we are now, a symbol of civilisation and standards that we may look on as a birthright even while we betray them through, for instance, violent xenophobia. It is half-recognisable but never truly defined, like the blurred, distorted outlines of countries which flash up between scenes on the video backdrop.

Greig, writing at the moment that Yugoslavia was fragmenting, has grimly foretold so many characteristics and attitudes which are now commonplaces of 21st-century social and political life. This ought to be incidental to the play's central message that we must know not just ourselves but others; however, it cannot help lending an urgency, even a desperation to the work. Douglas Rintoul's elegantly spare production finds its heart in duologues between Robert Paterson and Hannes Flaschberger as Fret and the refugee father, and in particular between Samantha Young as the painfully romantic Adele and Michelle Bonnard as the disengaged, disillusioned Katia.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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