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The Theatreguide.London Review

In Your Hands
New End Theatre      Autumn 2006

Natalia Pelevine's new play is an earnest and briefly inventive attempt to capture a tense moment of recent history that ultimately disappoints through a surprising absence of dramatic tension.

In October 2002 Chechen rebels seized a filled Moscow theatre, holding several hundred people hostage for two days. Russian forces eventually broke in, using a nerve gas that was meant just to put everyone to sleep but killed the terrorists and over 100 hostages.

Pelevine sets her play during the hostage period, with the clever device of placing all the hostages but one in the actual New End Theatre audience, so that the person next to you may suddenly start speaking and prove to be an actor.

Once that immediate surprise is past, not much is made of the device. Neither the supposed hostages nor the terrorists ever treat the rest of us as extras in the play, so we never really get the sense of being part of the hostage experience.

The actor-hostages form three groups, an egotistical 'Don't you realise who I am?' German and his girlfriend who first realises what a jerk he is, a mother and daughter who alternate between mutual concern and 'You always loved my brother more' bickering, and a woman journalist (the only one onstage) who realises she knows one of the terrorists from her time in Chechnya.

None of the groups interact with the others, the play's focus just rotating among them for brief scenes punctuated by one or another terrorist bringing on a portable radio whose newscast tells us that an hour or so has passed.

The conversations within each group are trivial - deliberately so, I would guess, as the author suggests that even bizarre situations take on a strange normality of their own.

The problem, of course, is that ordinariness is hard to make dramatic, and the third or fourth time the mother and daughter sitting in front of me went over the same banal ground I lost interest.

Worse, neither the author nor director Julian Woolford has been able to give the material any rhythm or forward movement. There seems no logic as to which group we turn to at any moment, and little development of character or situation within each group.

Except for the radio reports, there is little sense of time passing, and none at all of tension building or things moving to a crisis or climax.

So when the invasion comes it seems just an arbitrary way of ending the play, no more inevitable at that moment than it would have been a half-hour earlier or later.

We leave the theatre having learned very little about the politics of the captors and having felt very little of the experience of the captured.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of In Your Hands - New End  Theatre 2006


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