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
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
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