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The Theatreguide.London Review

Broken Voices
Tristan Bates Theatre      Spring 2005

Here's a particularly ambitious project for a young fringe company, all the more to be admired for the extent of its success.

The group called, simply, New Company commissioned eight playwrights from around the world to write short plays on the theme of democracy and elections, particularly in those places where such things can't betaken for granted.

The result is a fascinating, if predictably uneven, evening that certainly shows the actors and directors - if not always the playwrights - at their best.

The styles of the eight plays range from allegory to documentary, the points-of-view from tragic to darkly comic to cautiously optimistic.

At their best, the pieces capture the excitement and confusion of societies in which free elections cannot be taken for granted; at their worst, they either strain at unachieved meanings or seem to make no effort at all.

Both the Argentine writer Ignacio Apolo and the Ukrainian Natalya Vorozhbit create the effect of direct reporting.

Apolo's montage of eyewitness reports of the collapse of Argentina's economy and infrastructure in 2002 demonstrates sadly how irrelevant voting was when everything else was crumbling, while Vorozhbit's personal account of the spontaneous demonstrations that foiled a corrupt Ukrainian election in 2004 is a thrilling celebration of democracy.

Two strikingly similar playlets, by the Croatian Tena Stivicic and Romanian Gianina Carbunariu, reflect politics in a domestic setting, each showing two generations of a family reacting differently to flawed elections, each writer sadly resigned to all their characters' ineffectuality.

Those four are enough to make the evening worthwhile, and others might find the remaining four more impressive than I did.

The Palestinian writer Adania Shibli uses four people in a room as an allegory of the way small countries are allowed the illusion of democracy while being manipulated from without, but I felt the play lingered on long after making its point, as did Jawad Al Assadi's attempt to make black comedy out of the American-directed Iraqi elections.

Least interesting are two plays that seem to have been pulled out of their writers' trunks rather than being shaped to this topic, Francine Volpe's sub-Tobacco Road anecdote set in the American South and Ursula Rani Sarma's strained linking of a parable about war and an Irish couple's fading relationship.

Acting, by Emma Buckley, Kyla Davis, Grant Gillespie, Gracy Goldman and Anthony Lewis (each appearing in several of the plays) and direction, by Simon de Deney and Anouke Brook, are excellent throughout.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Broken Voices - Tristan Bates  Theatre 2005


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