Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 14 October, 2011
In a world such as this all of us, to varying degrees and whether in passing or more chronically, succumb to atrocity fatigue. We may tune out reports of horrific episodes, or find ourselves growing harder and more cynical in our dealings with them, or even give up altogether and enlist our efforts in another area. It is a syndrome which affects not only many of the characters in Stella Feehily’s latest play, but also its audiences. Feehily’s story of two human rights workers (the elder and more experienced Irish, the new recruit French) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is based on a number of workshops and interviews with those involved in such turbulent areas. Yet, watching it, we may feel ourselves insufficiently swayed because the actual onstage events are not as graphic as, say, those in Lynn Nottage’s Ruined seen in London some 18 months ago. We may believe that Feehily is letting us, and herself as a writer, off too easily by focusing on figures with whom we can more readily identify. I think these doubts are false, but they are none the less difficult to dispel.
Sadhbh and Mathilde encounter a young girl repeatedly raped by a warlord and his soldiers, the disturbingly articulate and incisive warlord himself, a jaded journalist and a gung-ho young photographer each looking for the big story and prone either to lose sight of or consciously to subordinate the people whose lives are the stories. Sadhbh’s relationship with a former colleague now working for Shell is put under increasing pressure by both immediate events and the couple’s progressively divergent attitudes. It is a play about the difficulties of caring, whether closer to or further from home, about the constant and insoluble problems of prioritising one’s own and others’ lives, and how we judge ourselves and others over our attempts to do so.
Max Stafford-Clark’s production for Out Of Joint is brisk and direct, allowing all these issues and perspectives to tumble over one another, and Orla Fitzgerald and Julie Dray as Sadhbh and Mathilde give sensitive readings that elicit our sympathy without appearing to demand it. But even as we watch this, we know with a certain numbness (as does the play itself) that it is far from the last word on the subject.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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