Sunday, September 17, 2006

"And one day soon, we will start hunting cabbages": The Overwhelming

"And one day soon, we will start hunting cabbages": The Overwhelming

It's fair to say that over the last five or six years I've seen quite a bit of theatre. During that time there has been a percentage of plays and productions which have either delighted me with their sheer joy or devastated me with their world view. And if there is one theatre company that has consistantly reminded me of both the power of theatre and its importance as a medium of debate then Max Stafford-Clark's wonderful Out of Joint has to be it. Talking to Terrorists stands as possibly my favourite production of 2005 and so it has to be said that I was a little bit excited about OoJ's production of The Overwhelming coming to the WYP. Little in the way that I get a little bit excited about John Barrowman being cute and excited on 'How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?' or David Tennant turning up at the V Festival.

Even without anything else The Overwhelming deserves a thumbs up for giving me a new theatrical crush in the form of Andrew Garfield who not only managed to be incredibly cute with his floppy hair and shirt-off antics but also proved to be a pretty phenomenal actor - especially towards the play's conclusion. Sadly I didn't know this last bit when he was stood in the dinner queue and I was preoccupied working out whether he was wearing fake converses or real ones.

But actor cuteness alone would not be enough for a OoJ production. And since The Overwhelming is a play concerned with the genocide in Rwanda in the mid nineties it would be a sorry state of affairs if that was the only thing I'd come away from the production with. As ever with OoJ the production wasn't always easy viewing with its multiple perspectives and the way it held a rather uncomfortable mirror up to its audience. What would you do in this situation? Would you risk your life - or that of your family - to save people you don't know? Does a white Western life mean more than a black African one? Could this - will this - happen again?

And to the conclusion I hinted at. The sense of impending disaster which bled through the production led to an ending I found so horrific I could hardly watch. Because I was there in the moment, that terrifying heart of darkness when a father was faced with the choice of saving his family or his friend. And with the sight of his 17 year old son, curled up like a baby, with a rifle pointing at his head, the father made the decision not only to give up his friend but to beg the men to take him to his certain death. To know that this was the only decision.

If that brought me to tears then I wasn't expecting the production's parting shot. To a message of hope, of the power of today, the lights dimmed and two men with machetes walked deliberately, carefully, to a table at the back of the set which was covered with cabbages. With a swift tug of the table cloth the cabbages came flying across the stage, more came towards us as the machetes deftly sliced them until lying on the table there was nothing but a small number of solitary skulls. Then, with a clattering, sickening, thud the corregated iron at the back of the set came down to reveal shelf after shelf holding skull after skull. And then everything went black.

For what it was saying, for the sheer theatricality of how it said it, I had one of the most extreme reactions I've ever had in a theatre - I thought I might be sick. I stumbled out into the light, shakey, unsure, but knowing I'd just seen something that will haunt me. Which is possibly what is at the very heart of the play.

"Minzinga: This will mean nothing to you soon. All of us, we will mean nothing. This is so unimportant to you. You will go home and forget. How fortunate you are."


Nik said...

you forgot to answer the important question...were the converses real or not?

val said...

Wow! An incredibly powerful report. I saw this advertised and quite fancied seeing it, because I also love Out of Joint. Not easy to watch, but then theatre shouldn't always be.

Corinne said...

I think what I loved about it was how uncomfortable at times it was to watch - it's quite a powerful experience to have in a theatre, and one which I haven't had for a while. And it certainly was a play people came out of with strong reactions (good or bad) which I hold to be a very good thing.

As for the important question - they were fake, but a very nice shade of green.