Any show that starts by pressing a Cuba Libre on you, seating you in a deck chair and urging you to take off your shoes and wriggle your toes in the (considerately provided) sand is alright in my book. This is a seductive start to a punchy and powerful piece of theatre from Nottingham-based company, 2Magpies Theatre.
Inspired by a holiday resort used by US military personnel that sits within the boundaries of notorious detention centre, Guantanamo Bay, Last Resort compares the joyous round-the-clock debauchery of all-inclusive holidays with the unrelenting treatment doled out to the terror suspects inside the camp.
Given the subject matter, this could be a harrowing hour, but our hosts are so boisterously optimistic, the activities provided for these happy campers so varied and the parallels so smart that you’re appalled and repulsed and delighted – and disgusted with yourself for being delighted – all at once.
Performers Eve Parmiter and Tom Barnes are wonderful. Tom is a newbie, being trained as a camp host by his more experienced colleague. His naïve optimism and eagerness to please is endearing and simultaneously heart-breaking. His final challenge for his first day is appallingly compelling.
Parmiter has more than a dollop of Mary Poppins in her rousing good cheer as she welcomes us to the camp. But the underlying menace is perfectly pitched. She’s a woman you wouldn’t mess with.
A site-specific production, it’s staged in one of the basement rooms at Summerhall which provides a perfect undertone of best-kept secrets for the group exercise (don’t worry – you don’t leave your deckchair), the relaxation (complete with scented spa-style cloths!) and the camp entertainment. The disco, complete with strobe lights and the Bee Gees, is a master stroke.
The fluorescent trappings are window dressing for some appalling facts about Guantanamo Bay – the flimsy evidence used to justify detaining suspects, the conditions within the camp and the treatment of the prisoners held there. It would take a hard-hearted audience member not to question why this behaviour has been allowed to continue, despite Barack Obama’s vow to close the camp before the end of his tenure as US President.
But the most striking thing about this show is the audience debate and discussion once it has finished. Did we behave as we should? Are we complicit because we didn’t try to stop the increasingly out of control antics? And would our hosts have ignored us even if we had? Theatre that starts conversations – there’s no higher compliment to a production.
To create the show, Parmiter and Barnes worked with experts including academics, MOD trained interrogators and charity Reprieve who work in the field of human rights’ violations, including offering legal support to detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The show programme gives you a bunch of links to websites if you’d like to find out more about what you’ve just seen.
I chatted to a lady from New York as we climbed the stairs up from the basement. She said she was delighted to see that people outside the US are interested in and care about what may or may not be going on in this US controlled area of Cuba. Hats off to 2Magpies Theatre for doing their bit to stop Trump sweeping this under the carpet.