When you arrive at a theatre having just watched a May/Trump press conference, you don’t need a play to show you what dystopia looks like. But with 1984 back on the bestseller list, people seem to want to turn to fiction to try and make sense of post-truth reality. Time to crack out some Pinter…
Edinburgh’s Black Dingo have been producing a broad range of grassroots theatre for five years now, covering anything from ancient Scottish history to modern sectarian abuse. This trio of shorts, directed by Tyler Mortimer in a new downstairs space at the Roxy that’s only normally used at the Fringe, is a change from their normal fare, but the nightmarish scenarios sketchily painted by Pinter contain horror within that feels frighteningly appropriate.
Precisely sees two men plonked at a table over a bottle of spirits discussing, nay, negotiating, over big numbers – 20 million, 30 million, maybe up to 50 million or more. Body counts, it’s presumed, but it’s the detached, world weary manner in which they do it that haunts. Like the Narrator in Fight Club cynically weighing up deaths versus costs before deciding whether to recall a car, their connection with humanity has been severed by their role in the system. It’s as easy to imagine calculations of a similar sort being made in the White House and the Kremlin today as it was in 1983 when Pinter wrote it.
The other two – Mountain Language and New World Order – have been blurred together here, offering as they do perspectives on aspects of oppression. The characters of Mountain Language are barred from speaking their native tongue by haranguing, aggressive military figures. Assumed by some to have been based on the Turks and the Kurds, one does not have to probe too deep to get the implications being made about free speech and treatment of minorities in general. Similar in tone, New World Order is a very short sketch in which two guards taunt a hooded prisoner as to what awaits him. When waterboarding has been all over the day’s news, it’s timing that is too uncomfortably perfect.
The best, sharpest lines fall to Ben Blow, who brings a dispassionate, mocking menace to his roles throughout. The best of all, and a sinister warning to those who might seek to challenge our current New World Order, is spoken over the prone body of his prisoner:
‘Before he came in here, he was a big shot… he never stopped questioning received ideas. Now, because he’s apprehensive about what’s about to happen to him, he’s stopped all that… This man was a man of conviction, wasn’t he, a man of principle? Now, he’s just a prick.’
It goes without saying that this isn’t everyone’s idea of a relaxing night out at the theatre, but it makes an interesting selection of shorts for those who seek solace in the intellectual.