Brighton Magazine

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Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Honest & Hard Hitting Play Based On Real Issues & Difficult Topics @ Latest Music Bar

Anyone tackling the writing or production of a play that leads on real events, and deals with issues such as violence, terrorism and murder always walks a very difficult tightrope.
First Domio Pic Courtesy Of Malcolm Crowthers Music & Creative Photography

To the one side lie the pitfalls of cliché and overproduction; too much running around shouting and passion - thus degrading the whole event in the instance that you try to elevate it.

On the other side is the temptation to underplay the events, using them instead of dealing with them, having them as a kind of abstract wallpaper or backdrop to events that is never dealt with head on, that serves no purpose.

Further there is the temptation to forget the significance of the event in relation to the story and so end up with a production that is simply a strange kind of voyeuristic event.

The First Domino, at Latest Music Bar, treading the boards with a neat sidestep here and a subtle move there, building slowly to its climax, makes none of these mistakes and is one of the most honest and hard hitting plays I have seen.

Simply based and simply set, the play lies at the centre of a spinning relational vortex created by the two personas of the prison doctor and the nail-bomber he interviews.

With the play authored by Jonathan Cash (a survivor of the Admiral Duncan pub bombed in 1999 as a target of a far right extremist) this was always going to be something of a "messenger speech" in the model of Aeschylus" Persians (an account of the fifth century BC events at the terrible sea-battle of Salamis between the Greeks and Persians, and of which he was also a survivor).

In this sense, both men have written a play relating events they have both directly experienced from the very heart of a moment in history.

The comparison bears more consideration at the climax of the play when the Prison Doctor (Cary Crankson) reveals to the bomber (Danny Seldon) that he is, in fact, a victim of the bomber"s actions and has the physical and mental scars to prove it.

This revelation, delivered in the manner of a messenger speech, is a triumph of both writing and direction.

The Persians was written over 2,500 years before this play, and the similarity between the power of one of the first such speeches ever written, and this one, is incredible.

Whether it is the authenticity of honest witness or the power of the writer"s craft (I suspect both) I do not know, but as the doctor related events to the aghast bomber, now paralysed by the awful truth, the vision of the Persian messenger delivering his account of the destruction of the Persian forces, as The Queen and her courtiers realise the consequences of their actions, came straight to me.

Both learn the results of their aggression and its consequences, far away as they might be (in time or distance) they are soon to come home to roost.

Of course, and as Historians understand, Aeschylus" descriptions are those seen from his viewpoint - both physically in the battle and politically as a Greek, so Cash will similarly be compromised as a victim of these events. Further the "messenger" is not Aeschylus, and Cash is not the prison doctor.

Yet, the inability of historians or of news footage to relate the emotions and feelings that lie at the core of such events means that playwrights are often able to get to a deeper truth than the relation of simple facts. This is often what they do best.

The relationship between actions and words often seems to lie at the heart of this play.

The Bomber seems to argue that his reign of terror is some of existential act; he does not sit on the fence but "acts" - acts to destroy that which he hates.

But he is no existential hero, his an argument of words for he acts on his essential thoughts, his background and the external effects it has had on him and because he thought other people would join him in his campaign of terror.

He is not a maker of history, but a by-product of it.

"There"s no such thing as community," he snarls at the doctor in parody of those in power in the eighties who claimed that there was no such thing as society.

Wonderfully directed, by award winning director Faynia Williams, the play builds up the conversation between bomber and doctor/victim in a tight and intense space adding to the sense of the building up to the play"s stunning climax.

When the bomber and the doctor disappear off stage, as the doctor strangles his victim, it seems we are being led to think that the doctor has murdered him; we later hear the bomber is found dead in his cell.

If it is the case, and I think it is, that the doctor murders the bomber then, for me, it is all a terrible mistake.

For the life of the bomber, who now understands the consequences of his actions, who for all his bravado, is a now man out of denial and in the "real world", would surely have been one of personal torture as he realised that his campaign of hate had changed nothing.

Yet, as his life slipped away at the doctor"s hands, he would have had the consolation that every terrorist needs, the knowledge that has remade his victims in his own terrible image.

Great performances by Danny Seldon and Cary Crankson, along with a great script and tight powerful direction (and haunting sculptures by Romany Mark Bruce) make this a challenging and captivating production that deserved its sell-out audience.

The First Domino is on at the Latest Music Bar (formerly Joogleberries) in Manchester Street, Kemptown, at 7pm, until the 23rd May.

Tickets cost just £10 and the production lasts for 1hr 20 mins with no interval. See for more details.

by: Howard Young (Theatre Editor)

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