“Decade”

at Commodity Quay, Saturday 10th September 2011

Anyone who believes that there are certain issues which art shouldn’t tackle is wrong. End of story. Just as there can be bad art about the most basic of issues, there can also be extraordinary art which tackles the most profound questions. Headlong Theatre has proved that no stone should be left unturned in the quest for truth, representing a wide selection of viewpoints on the World Trade Center attacks. Decade is a provocative, exciting and entertaining piece of theatre which never once shies away from the subject matter.

Rupert Goold has taken a collection of short plays from several writers and meshed them together. One thing unifies them; they all represent in some way an opinion on 9/11, delving into the lives of survivors, widows, historians, nurses and politicians who were affected, directly or indirectly. Lively, pedestrian choreography from Scott Ambler and brash, loud music by Adam Cork mix with Goold’s direction to mirror theatrically the cacophony of voices which fight to be heard. Yet even before we enter the space, the point is made that the voice of authority is always the one which prevails, as we are searched and questioned in a customs-style process – although those in power want these to be the only voices which are heard, the real human arguments cannot be suppressed.

Perhaps the most successful playlets are the monologues. Simon Schama’s Epic and Recollections of Scott Forbes, edited by Samuel Adamson, give the most direct and clear opinions, and are performed as wholly believable lectures by Tom Hodgkins and Tobias Menzies respectively.Ella Hickson’s Gift, about a gift seller who capitalises on the emotions of women after Ground Zero tours, and Harrison David Rivers’  not resentful at all give some humorous opinions on the aftermath.

We are also shown vignettes which highlight how tolerance has been compromised post-9/11. The Odds, by Lynn Nottage, shows Islamic members of the community slowly becoming ostracised, and Rory Mullarkey’s Trio with Accompaniment suggests we are all guilty of prejudice on public transport.

One storyline which runs throughout, Matthew Lopez’ The Sentinels, charts the progress of three women who were made widows by the attack as they meet on September 11th each year. We watch as the years go backwards from 2011 to 2000, seeing how their lives have changed and subsequently asking what life was like before the towers were brought down. The performances of Emma Fielding, Amy Lennox and Charlotte Randle here are mesmerising.

But Decade is far more than the sum of its parts. For, while each play makes a point on its own, it is together that they resonate. The scene changes are among the slickest and most engaging I’ve seen; Ambler’s choreography is seared onto the mind, just like the images of citizens jumping from windows. The final moments include a chilling song created by text messages sent on the day, reminding us of Cork’s recent success in London Road and asking us to feel emotion where before we were asked to think.

Miriam Buether’s design is staggering. We are in Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower. On each end of the room are views of Manhattan, and on another a glass-fronted walkway which is used to great effect. The attention to detail is astonishing; we are even given a menu to peruse before the play begins. It is lit with flair by Malcolm Rippeth, and the dust on the shoulders of Emma Williams’ costumes completes the startling picture.

Decade is collaborative art at its best. Goold brings together a selection of sources which sometimes disagree and sometimes overtly contradict, yet the production never feels anything but cohesive. There is glue in the desire to question and debate one singular event, and no one is ever deprived of their right to speak. The epic is made human and vice versa, and spectacle is never far away. This is theatre.

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