This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
A play that questions how far a father would go to protect his family from the ravages of warfare ought to be packed with topical resonances. Would he lead them across dangerous seas and continents to seek refuge? Or would it be preferable for him to inter them in a deep bunker and wait for the bombs and the gunfire to go away? The latter option is chosen by George, the father in this debut play by Spanish-born writer Abrahan Arsis. The time and the conflict that is taking place are non-specific. The action begins several years after George, his wife and three children have entered the bunker and, by now, they are running out of food and water. Confinement together is taking its toll on the family members too, with tensions between them running high. Edward Pinner’s George is a tyrant with a tenuous grip on power. His wife Margaret (Christine Rose) is increasingly defiant, challenging his orders with the feminist cry: “the men do as they please and the women live to serve them”. His 16-year old daughter Victoria (Jennie Eggleton) despises him and his younger son Charles (Lewys Taylor) tows the line, albeit grudgingly. An older son, Robert is unseen, having apparently escaped to the world above at the beginning of the play. The Hope’s small space allows the audience, on three sides, to merge with the set and to share in the feeling of claustrophobia that engulfs the characters. However Poppy Rowley’s production generates little tension and no sense of impending peril. Power for the bunker is generated by Charles pedalling an exercise bike to charge a battery and this explains the harsh fluorescent lighting, but its brightness affects the ambience and counters any hints of something sinister taking place. Arsis’s writing is humourless and prone to repetition, making the play, even at only 75 minutes, feel too long. At the beginning, there seems potential for a serious reflection on the effects of war on innocent families, but the play turns quickly into an unbelievable and occasionally tawdry melodrama, centred only on petty bickering and dark family secrets. The chief redeeming feature of Rowley’s production is the valiant efforts of the four actors to make it all credible. Otherwise, this is a play that could end up being buried even deeper than the characters in it.
Performance date: 10 September 2015