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Review of The War Has Not Yet Started at Southwark Playhouse

The War Has Not Yet Started
The War Has Not Yet Started

Define ‘war’ in the first instance, and then one might get an inkling as to whether the play’s content lives up to its title. Three actors over a dozen scenes play multiple characters, all nameless – ‘mum’, ‘dad’, ‘son’, ‘husband’ (and so on) are to be considered names. The scenes are disparate, which makes for a highly varied play that goes, in the old adage, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Or did the ridiculous come first?

The staging in The War Has Not Yet Started is kept simple throughout, and the script provides enough description within the dialogue for the audience to easily tell, say, a front room in one scene from an airport terminal in another. If there were costume changes, they went unnoticed, at least by me. But then, these characters were always in everyday clothes (by contemporary standards) and, again, the dialogue is so accessible and readily understood. In one scene, Mark Quartley plays a doting mother figure, and Hannah Britland an aloof father. Both demonstrate versatility whatever gender the character they are playing at any given time is, as does Sarah Hadland, as convincing a lover as she is a broadcaster.

There could be, looking at this production, a larger number of actors, of either gender, taking on the different characters. A scene in a swimming pool was simultaneously disturbing and humorous, indicative of the Thought Police from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four novel, even if how allegedly morally dubious thoughts could be so accurately transmitted or picked up on here wasn’t fully explained.

A different scene, involving a power failure, performed in near total darkness, proves particularly revelatory. The world of the play overall seems, as the title would suggest, as though things are about to get very nasty and difficult. But one scene, very much reminiscent of the Fake News agenda currently pushed by Washington, implies that if one news story is more propaganda than fact, so could others. It’s also implied that if ‘the war’ has not yet started, then it is possible that it might not start at all.

This is a bold show, encompassing a wide range of topics and themes, some of which could have been plays in themselves. At least one theme is already the subject of a play. I saw a production last summer, Cotton, as part of Camden Fringe 2017, about computer gaming and the effect it can have on millennials as well as the older generation. Here, one scene sees Quartley very impressively playing a teenage gamer, voicing his opinions to game developers as to what needs to be done to improve a game in development. But there is so much more to explore – is his viewpoint really taken into consideration? What about the gamer’s mum, mentioned only in passing, and other personal circumstances? Are the developers questioning other millennials? What are their views?

The humour, where it exists, is largely dark. With so many scenes played out relatively quickly (the front of house team at Southwark Playhouse seemed especially keen on emphasising the 75-minute running time), it’s difficult to get fully absorbed when the scenes are isolated from one another. I do not mean to say the show is disjointed or confusing – it is not. And as I don’t tire of saying, it’s better for a show to leave the audience wanting more than for it to outstay its welcome. The amount of profanity seemed a little superfluous, but otherwise, it’s an intriguing and delightfully bizarre production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In twelve twisted parables for the modern age, Durnenkov taps into the fears and strangeness of our daily lives –
sexual gamesmanship; what to do with ageing parents, those lying politicians, tensions at the airport, those lying
journalists, infidelity and the absurdity implant.
Things happen but no one can see the connections in The War Has Not Yet Started, a strangely prophetic study of our collective unease about living in the modern world.

A Theatre Royal Plymouth production
The War Has Not Yet Started
By Mikhail Durnenkov
Translated by Noah Birksted-Breen
Directed by Gordon Anderson
Designed by Bob Bailey with lighting by Andy Purves and sound design by Ed Lewis

Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD
www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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