State of Emergency

Gate Theatre, 6 November – 11 December 2008

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

A married couple live with their son in a wholesome gated community. The neighbours are polite, there are facilities for the whole family, and at night the streetlamps play violin concertos so the family don’t have to listen as infiltrators are gunned down by the gate guards.

Falk Richter’s play, translated by David Tushingham, is interesting in that it portrays the fall of a dystopia from the viewpoint of the conservative. The Woman (Geraldine Alexander) is desperate to protect the status quo and her privileges from her husband and son, whom she suspects of opening the gate at night to let in the baying masses. It’s through her quiet but persistent inquisitions that we are drip-fed details about the play’s brave new world.

Naomi Dawson’s minimalist set cages the family like zoo reptiles behind their panoramic windows, in a long, narrow room that gives Alexander maximum space to prowl and pace. She’s poised – a model suburban mother – yet restless, nervous, and her insecurities flow out steadily but unstoppably. The disturbing impression is that she’s borderline hysterical, but still keeps her voice down to thwart informing neighbours.

The irony is that she’s as dissatisfied as her menfolk, snookered between her aspirations, received opinion and reality. She worked hard to gain entry to the community; everyone outside is willing to risk life and limb to gain illicit entry to the community; therefore life in the community must be wonderful, and any thoughts she entertains to the contrary must be denied.

The Man (Jonathan Cullen) provides a reticent counterpoint to his wife’s stream of consciousness. When he eventually explains his disillusionment there’s a very subtly controlled quaver in his voice, revealing a deep-set melancholy behind the evasive façade. Physically, Cullen is miscast. He looks neither old nor weary enough to justify his character’s habit of catnapping through important exchanges.

As the Boy, James Lamb plays a textbook whiny teenager when the script calls for something more sinister. His mother professes more than once to be afraid of him, and Dawson has him in a hoodie, invoking a middle-class fear of rogue youths with knives and attitude. Yet on discovering the Woman has been snooping in his bedroom he is merely affronted, and under gentle questioning he pleads desperately for a reprieve.

With a sulk and a glower, Lamb could be the personification of everything the adults are hiding from, behind their panoramic window, high walls and gate. Instead he’s a product of his privileged upbringing, pampered and spoiled, and his ultimate act of dissidence becomes a petty rebellion.

Written by Falk Richter (translated by David Tushingham)

Crew includes Maria Aberg (director), Naomi Dawson (designer), Neil Austin (lighting), Carolyn Downing (sound) and Eleni Parousi (video design)

Cast includes Geraldine Alexander (Woman), Jonathan Cullen (Man) and James Lamb (Boy)

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