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Review of Cause at the Vault Festival London

CauseTess (Rebecca Tebbett) is a sort of Angry Young Person. I say ‘sort of’, as her fury is not indiscriminate, and her temper is largely controlled. But she does have some principles, which even the prospect of spending fifteen years in a prison overseas won’t shake. The ending is ambiguous enough not to make clear whether she does, in the end, what her legal counsel Lorna (Lanna Joffrey) advises her to do (plea bargaining, in essence, though I hasten to add that term is not used). It depends, on one level, on whether Cause is seen as being entirely in chronological order – there are two stories, one at home in the UK, the other on an expedition to the Arctic Circle, the first bookending the show, such that the second forms the main part of the narrative.

There’s a playful sense of humour in Nick (Lewis Hart) lightly tearing into Tess for ordering a takeaway when she is an ardent environmentalist. I agreed with him, actually: what about, indeed, the disposable containers in which takeaway food comes in, and the plastic cutlery? It’s up there with people in NHS uniforms huddled outside a hospital building smoking cigarettes. Later on, once Tess has embarked on her trip to the Arctic, Demi (also Joffrey) brings a very different sort of hilarity to the dialogue, a forthright and deadpan delivery of punchlines that paradoxically produces a greater effect than a more jovial approach would have done. At one point the dialogue is forced to pause, such was the audience’s reaction – always a good sign.

A consistent stubbornness reveals some naivety on Tess’ part. It surprised me, as she came across as rather streetwise, that she didn’t appear to have any sort of knowledge about how either the media, whether ‘mass’ or ‘social’, would take to her playing a role in, to put it bluntly (spoiler alert), angering the Russian authorities. She does, however, have a demonstrable ability to articulate her lines of argument well.

Nelson Mandela’s famed Rivonia Trial speech in 1964 ended with the words “it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. Tess expresses similar sentiments, contented to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of saving the planet from the worst effects of climate change, though this aspect of the story is not explored as fully as it might have been. Perhaps it is the brevity of the play overall. Perhaps it is the change of focus as the play becomes, in effect, a commentary on the disparity between how assertive men are portrayed, as opposed to assertive women.

I don’t personally think the Russian authorities would have been less draconian had Tess been a man – it would appear that this show’s creatives have similar sentiments. The focus is really on thoughts and opinions expressed in leader columns in national newspapers as well as remarks by members of the public on social media platforms. But partly because it is difficult to do so in the context of the plot, there are no discernible solutions or even suggestions on how to improve on the status quo.

The performances from all three actors are very strong, and not for nothing are ‘special thanks’ given in the programme to the show’s dialect coach, Dimitrios Loukakis. The accents, too, are quite brilliant, with Joffrey and Hart taking on two roles each. Exploring both social media and global warming, this is a thought-provoking production with wide-ranging implications in more ways than one.

4 stars

Review by Chris Comaweng

I’m sorry I did what I did. But I needed to make you see.
For as long as she can remember, Tess has wanted to fight for what’s important, to campaign against the forces pushing our world towards collapse. So she’s come north, further than she’s ever been, to make her voice heard.But now, aboard an Arctic vessel off the coast of Russia, she is confronted with radical new ideas, of what fighting really means. Because maybe having your voice heard isn’t quite enough. It’s what people hear that matters. Or think they hear. In a modern world, people can make the news whatever they want it to be. How can protest cut through this? How can Tess be sure people know what she stands for? And if she can’t, what is she willing to sacrifice to be heard?

CAUSE is a play about change. It follows the journey of Tess, a climate change activist looking to make a difference in the world. The play explores what it means to entirely devote oneself to a cause, and the difference between how male and female activists are perceived in modern media.

The play is by award-winning writer James Huntrods and directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson (Testament by Tristan Bernays VAULT Festival 2017, pick of the week). The cast includes recent LAMDA graduate Rebecca Tebbett, Lewis Hart (credits include work at the Finborough Theatre, Soho Theatre, Propellor Theatre Company and Royal Shakespeare Company) and Lanna Joffrey (credits include work at Gate Theatre, The Globe and Playwrights Horizons in New York).

CAUSE
by James Huntrods
Directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson
VAULT Festival, Leake Street, Waterloo, SE1 7NN
21 – 25 February 2018
https://vaultfestival.com/

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