If Destroyed True
Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre Spring 2005
Douglas Maxwell's new play watches nihilism descend into despair and then at its lowest point find the basis for hope.
It is a strongly written, frequently very funny and ultimately quite moving piece beautifully staged and acted in this co-production by Paines Plough and the Dundee Rep.
A sinkhole of a village is officially declared the worst town in Scotland, which actually pleases the town fathers, since it comes with a big money grant to improve things.
The town misfit and rebel decides, as a jape, to convince them to spend the money on making things worse, so they'll get an even bigger grant next year.
But he is horrified when the town demagogue (who is also the local drug dealer and probably the boy's father) embraces the idea and runs with it, letting his own demonic drives produce schemes that will destroy what little civility and humanity there is to the place.
With the aid of others discovering a new sense of unity and purpose, the rebel foils the bad guy and helps begin the town on a journey to new life and hope.
The first thing you will sense about the play is the richness and vitality of its language, a melodic, occasionally unobtrusively rhythmic Scottish-tinged prose poetry that is luscious in the ear.
It is not a stretch to say there is something Shakespearean or Tennessee Williams-ish about Maxwell's writing, which carries you into a contact high of sheer listening pleasure (and in the very few scattered moments when Maxwell loses control of the language and it goes flat, you'll sense the temporary loss of energy in the room).
Even more important, you quickly sense that this play is About Something That Matters, and that behind this black-comic fable is a view of life almost Beckett-like in its power.
'Even if I grant that things are as bad as they can possibly be,' the playwright seems to be saying, 'I can still find a basis for hope and for faith in the human potential for building rather than destroying'.
Maxwell differs from Beckett in not employing sketchy minimalism to make his point.
Each of the several characters is given a complex back story that fleshes them out and contributes to a sense of the community's reality without cluttering the play or distracting from the central themes.
And each of them rings true, from the life-hating petty tyrant who doles out heroin and urban renewal plans with the same malignity, to the lonely old woman whose inability to interact socially gradually leads her to doubt her own existence.
In the excellent cast of seven, Paul Thomas Hickey as the rebel, Robert Paterson as the villain and Keith Fleming as a well-meaning friend who gradually discovers and then somehow pushes past the shock of his own irrelevance stand out.
Director John Tiffany creates a fluid, fast-moving production that sensitively balances between realism and fable.
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of If Destroyed True - Menier Chocolate Factory 2005