DEAD HOURS
BAC (Battersea Arts Centre), London SW11
Opened 15 October, 1996

The artistic relationship between Tom Morris and Nava Zukerman has worked to their mutual advantage for several years now: Morris's initial forays into production with Zukerman's Tmu-Na company laid the foundations for a successful career, and since his appointment as artistic director of BAC in Battersea the Israeli company has been assured of a London venue on each of its visits. However, the association seems to be growing a little threadbare. Dead Hours suggests that last year's disappointing Transit Hotel, rather than a minor blot on Tmu-Na's hitherto admirable record, may have been the beginning of a downward trajectory.

It could be coincidence that, for this piece, Zukerman has worked only with two actors, both newcomers to Tmu-Na, and that its location in a women's prison demands stark, minimal settings; it may, on the other hand, signal that this time around her resources have been more than usually limited. Something feels missing, also, in terms of focus. In the past, Tmu-Na casts have been able to create their own atmospheres, stifling perhaps but charged, by dint of their concentration in performance; here, such concentration is given little chance most of the production consists of solo sequences delivered straight out at the audience, or awkward attempts to interact directly with them, including the distribution of mugs of black coffee and plates of cold potato mash. Although a relationship between the two cellmates gradually solidifies, it never engages us.

Sivan Horesh plays an Israeli provoked after long torment into murdering her husband, Nicole Rourke an Irishwoman arrested in possession of "terrorist materials". They demonstrate the conventional trade-off of personalities: Rourke louder and superficially more defiant but brittly insecure, Horesh's apparent timidity concealing a certain strength in resignation. They tell us not each other about their alleged wrongdoings, about their lives outside, and about their respective families. Rourke cavorts to a Pogues tune (played, perversely, over the PA system rather than on the ghetto-blaster onstage). Horesh shows us, close up, the wounds given her by her abusive husband. Echoes of Frank McGuinness's hostage drama Someone Who'll Watch Over Me crop up in an early hair-brushing scene and the final leave-taking as the Irish prisoner is released. Most crushingly, even the few perfunctory attempts at humour fall flat.

There is nothing else. Zukerman regularly either works with true stories or uses real events as a backdrop, working her pieces up through improvisation with the actors. In this case, the end product is a sixty-minute slice of second-string earnestness.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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