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A CurtainUp London Review
Nuclear War
by Malcolm Beckett
"All of these words may be spoken by the performers but none of them need be." — Initiating Stage Direction by Simon Stephens
Nuclear War
Cast in Nuclear War (Photo: Chloe Lamford)
This combination of a play with expressive dance has the unfortunate title of Nuclear War which in these turbulent times conjures up all the wrong expectations. In fact the title is said, by the writer Simon Stephens to be a metaphor for today's ills rather than the total destruction of life as we know it.

In his introduction to this production Stephens explains that this is an experimental attempt to blend a play with dance and in the main the two parts proceed independently of one another. He was inspired by seeing the choreographer Hofesh Schechter work at the Royal Court on Ramin Gray's 2006 production of Motortown. Directed by Imogen Knight who is also the choreographer/movement director, four dancers bring an interpretation to the spoken words and thoughts of Maureen Beattie who is the performer the story evolves around who lost someone seven years before. Stephens wanted to emphasise that the playwright is not the sole creator and his approach is designed to empower the members of the cast.

In the smaller Jerwood Space Upstairs at the Royal Court, the audience sit in the round on a collection of chairs experiencing pulsating, dramatic electronic sounds composed by Elizabeth Bernholz, to augment the props that are bought in, used and dispensed with, in minimalist fashion.

This is essentially an unstructured or devised piece with the cast being given free reign to say his words, or not. Stephens wanted to enable his performers to change his structure and words if they wanted to rather than deferentially adhering to the instructions of the playwright.. Overall this makes it often difficult to understand the meanings of the actions of the cast as the dancers interpret what the central character is feeling. Examples of this are the dancers wearing gas masks, eating oranges through nylon face masks and a pile of bricks. The central character has lost the person she loves and maybe the gas masks convey the barrier she feels between herself and the rest of the world and the experience and taste of eating oranges is hindered and interfered with by the nylon gas masks.

Maureen Beattie implies that it has been seven years since she has had any meaningful human contact and craves acceptance. It is her thoughts and surroundings that drive the dance movements. There are phrases which lack comprehensibility for instance, "Don't be scared. You look just like somebody I once met. I hadn't anticipated that you would be wearing blue shoes. " The theme of blue shoes is repeated and played on. Much of Stephens' text is poetic and repetitive, creating a rhythm to the words Maureen Beattie expresses.

This work is experimental and challenging and only 45 minutes long... If you seek order, sense, direction, purpose, a beginning and an end, then this may not be for you. However this is a provoking modern performance art expressed in two media, dance and theatre, for a short indulgence.

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Nuclear War
Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Imogen Knight
Starring: Maureen Beattie
With: Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Gerrome Miller, Beatrice Scirocchi, Andrew Sheridan
Design: Chloe Lamford
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Sound Design: Peter Rice
Choreographer: Imogen Knight
Running time: 45 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 6th May 2017
Reviewed by Malcolm Beckett based on 25th April 2017 performance at Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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