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Review: Nuclear War at the Royal Court Theatre

A 45-minute, challenging piece of theatre

28 April, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Beatrice Scirocchi in Nuclear War. Photo: Chloe Lamford

Writer Simon Stevens calls this “suggestions for a piece of theatre” and describes it as “fluid and contradictory and tentative and inchoate”. It is. There are no named characters and director and performers are free to treat text as stage directions or spoken and to use only what they choose to use.

The audience lines the walls of a dimly-lit room, a few pieces of furniture and some loudspeakers between them and a kitchen cupboard on its side on the floor. Four black clad figures sprawl on the floor (Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Gerrome Miller, Beatrice Scirocci and Andrew Sheridan).

As the play-in song fades there is the sound of wind: the nuclear wind perhaps. A woman sitting on the cabinet (Maureen Beattie) begins to speak of waking up with a memory of a lover who died seven years ago, that’s the nearest this gets to a plot.

The sound score of composer Elizabeth Bernholz and designer Peter Rice is pervasive and sometimes overpowering. Voices may be live or recorded, sometimes you can’t tell which.

This isn’t a play but a piece of physical theatre. Director/choreographer Imogen Knight is full of invention and creates some intriguing images. You could think they explore the fears in our heads in this early 21st century: losing loved ones, isolation, war and terrorism (there are even gas masks, tights stretched over faces, black veils) or our failed attempts to build a new world or a new life.

Stevens says he leaves interpretations to everybody else: “That is the job of collaborators and ultimately audiences.”

So it is up to you to make what you will of this 45-minute challenge.

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