Posts Tagged ‘Pentagon’

07/09/11

I find Headlong a difficult company to be a fan of. For every Enron, there is an Earthquakes in London to convince you that the brilliance of Enron was a fluke; because of this, I had mixed feelings about Rupert Goold’s 9/11 retrospective, however, being a sucker for a site-specific piece, I thought I’d give it a go.

With contributions from 20 different writers, Decade takes an episodic structure, looking at 9/11 itself from a variety of angles and the way in which our world has changed since that fateful day. There is Headlong’s usual mix of movement, drama and striking scenography, as well as some fascinating insights into the effect that one day has had on all of us.

On arrival, we enter the performance space after a surly interview from US border control, we are then sent via a red staircase into a replica of the Windows on the World restaurant. There is something incredibly chilling about Miriam Buether’s design – particularly the walls on either side of the room as we look at the view as it would have been from the top of the World Trade Centre. Buether’s design is such that the audience around breakfast tables, while the cast move around on tables and on the high stage in the centre of the room.

The show is largely a collage of reactions to 9/11, but there are some stories that deviate slightly. The best part for me was Mike Bartlett’s contribution, about a journalist who cynically tracks down Osama Bin Laden’s killer and questions him – the pace is lightning fast and injected with humour and pathos in Bartlett’s usual inimitable style.

Ella Hickson’s contribution is also one of the standouts of the evening – telling the cynical tale of a gift shop salesman at Ground Zero, who exploits distressed and upset female tourists in order to convince them to go to bed with him. It illicited laughs of incredulity on the night I attended, and left me with an uncomfortable feeling as Headlong examine the nature of the Ground Zero tourism.

Perhaps the piece that stood out for me the most was the meeting of the widows, taking the form of ten short scenes mapping the progress each widow made since 9/11 – and in turn how the nation grieved with them. In the midst of this was a short scene from the waitress that served these widows, who discussed the fact that her birthday will never quite be the same again. This rang incredibly true for me, as my birthday is on September 11th, and many of this waitresses sentiments were things I have been heard to say these past ten years.

The episodic nature of the piece means that, inevitably, this is a bit of a mixed bag. Some sections I found moving and incredibly exciting to watch, whereas others felt a little unnecessary. Simon Schama’s piece embodied that for me, as an historian tries to place 9/11 in a historical context – it was lengthy, academic, and took on a lecture-like form that didn’t sit well with the rest of the show.

In terms of Rupert Goold’s direction there were a lot of positives. The use of the space was nothing short of brilliant. Each scene was treated with discretion and imagination, and Scott Ambler’s movement sequences took on an almost tribal-like quality at times, giving atmosphere to the piece and sometimes a pause to digest what we had just witnessed.

I must admit, I find this a difficult play to review. The piece was performed and directed incredibly well, but I do think that it was too long, and the episodic structure meant that the piece lacked clarity. The contributions of different writers was interesting, but with such a massive task to tackle, a single writer with a single vision would have been much more effective. At times I craved just a simple retelling of events – maybe there is room for exploration with regards to a verbatim piece?

I believe there is definitely a place in theatre to examine the lasting effects of 9/11, but tackling one or two of the issues raised would be a play by itself – looking at ten years of history in one play was just too ambitious. With dozens of different angles I simply felt bombarded, and the issues Headlong were trying to address became muddied and overwhelmed.

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