Tricycle Theatre, London NW6
Opened 17 October, 2011
Next February, the Tricycle unveils its latest batch of thematically linked short plays: following programmes on Afghanistan and women and politics is The Bomb: A Partial History. The theatre’s outgoing artistic director Nicolas Kent limbers up for that season by directing a revival for Northern Stage, Vermont of Lee Blessing’s 1985 two-hander about the developing relationship between an American and a Soviet nuclear arms reduction negotiator.
The most palpable impression is, I’m afraid, the extent to which political plays can date. Blessing’s piece is not specific about any real-world details; indeed, once or twice it flies in the face of history (American negotiator Joan remarks that her president is apprehensive about the imminent election; in reality, the 1984 presidential election was the greatest landslide in U.S. history). The American character is now a woman, in a nod to the recent succession of female Secretaries of State, but this changes nothing of the play’s fundamental register.
For that is inextricably rooted in its era… by which I am afraid I mean that, without the pervasive sense of cold-war nuclear overkill which overhung us all for so much of the 1980s, it is much harder to overlook the lapidary nature of much of the writing. The central conceit of the play is that the two negotiators go for periodic walks in the woods near their Swiss summit venue, ostensibly not to make informal representations to each other but rather to escape the main talks altogether and discuss other, “frivolous” matters. In practice this is a flimsy pretext: Joan the American (Miriam Cyr) can never really switch off her business mode, and increasingly she and Andrey the Russian (Steven Crossley) take turns in delivering rather too thoughtful pensťes about the nuclear shadow and its relationship to their two nations’ polities. As writing it is intelligent and aware but not, at this remove, dramatically plausible. The only bit of human interaction comes when Joan recounts her near-arrest for dropping a chewing gum wrapper on a Swiss pavement, and that peters out into nothingness, not unlike the play itself after less than two hours including an interval.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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