Edward Bond’s Have I None is an ideal choice for London pub theatre and the spring of 2019 is optimal timing for a revival of this haunting 2000 one-act play.
Anyone with an interest in the rich tradition of British political theatre (from David Edgar to Caryl Churchill to Lucy Prebble), or in theatre history more generally, needs to spend some time with the works of Edward Bond. Four Points Theatre’s production at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre (over the Oxford Arms) is an excellent entree to the author and the genre if you’re not yet familiar with it. For established fans of this type of theatre, Lewis Frost’s revival is a short, satisfying and intense burst of drama, lasting only about an hour, that will give you plenty to talk about over drinks or dinner afterwards.
At 84 years of age, Bond is both a giant of British theatre and somewhat of an outcast from the establishment due to his uncompromising and undiplomatic nature. Unlike many other playwrights who wish only to express their ideas via their performance texts, Bond famously introduces his plays with prose essays. It is a great treat that Bond has authored an original introduction to this production – and with equal measures of sharpness and lyricism, he pulls no punches. ‘All fascism ends in defeat and suicide. It’s the logic of the situation – and on a massive scale, it’s the logic of reality… When I wrote this play I did not foresee Brexit. Drama did: that is the logic of reality.’
As a rule, this critic avoids directly Brexit-themed productions because it is too painful and exhausting. I did not need to apply that rule to Have I None because the play is a dystopian domestic drama about the intersection between pettiness and nihilism. It is visceral, funny and thoroughly theatrical. Not a topical reference or a sermon within a mile.
Lewis Frost’s production reveals himself as an actor’s director. He has assembled an excellent cast and rightly made them the focus of the piece. In the simplest of black box spaces with the most basic of lighting design and no sound design other than the noises made by actors, he manages to make even two chairs and a table almost feel like ‘too much’ scenery in the sparse and standardised ‘re-settled’ world of 2077.
Terrified and tense, we meet Sara (Emily Wickham) in what at first appears to be a traditional kitchen-sink story about an isolated housewife plagued by demons, which we are not sure are real or imagined. As her husband Jams (Ben Jacobson) arrives home we very quickly discover we are in a brutal, authoritarian world where ‘the past is forbidden’ and mass suicide comes in ‘outbreaks’ described with clinical fear but no empathy. The action intensifies with the unexpected arrival of Grit (Brad Leigh) who identifies himself as Sara’s brother having walked for days to reach his sister from the outer reaches of the country that is experiencing a grim outbreak of self-harm. Not sure who or what to trust, a plot is hatched; we wonder if it is one of cruelty or compassion.
All members of the cast are able and dedicated performers. Brad Leigh is especially compelling as the outsider in the chilling dyad of Sara and Jams’ marriage. The performances are physical, visceral and committed.
This is a strong production with a talented cast of a compelling play and, for pub theatre, amongst the best of its type. Have I None is a welcome addition to this season’s artistic zeitgeist as London also celebrates a Pinter festival in the West End and Churchill’s Top Girls at the National. On until 4th May, it is a shame this show doesn’t have a slightly longer run because I sense the pacing and emotional variation will find more rhythm as the production beds in. Frost and lighting technician, Charlotte Brown, may want to re-visit some of the cues that change mood and underpin drama, especially as this production relies on them exclusively without a score or scenic effects to alter mood or location. Nonetheless, Have I None is short, sharp and fundamentally gripping – it is well worth seeing.
Review by Mary Beer
Have I None is both frenetically comic and deadly serious. Written by Edward Bond and directed by Lewis Frost,
Have I None resonates ever more strongly with the consequences of our current political choices. It is 2077 and the past has been abolished. Frenzied mass consumerism has been replaced by standard-issue houses, furniture and food. The old cities lie in ruins and the people have been resettled. Sara (Emily Wickham) is unhappily married to Jams (Ben Jacobson), who works for the security services, but when a man (Brad Leigh) turns up at their door claiming to be her brother and holding a photograph of two children, Sara’s memory stirs.
Have I None
30th April to 4th May 2019
265 Camden High Street
(above the Oxford Arms)
Camden, London NW1 7BU