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 The Theatreguide.London Review


State of Emergency
Gate Theatre Autumn 2008

Attempts by a frightened middle class to insulate itself from the realities of life lead to a sterile and fragile illusion of security that will inevitably rot from within.

That's not at all a bad idea for a play, but this 2004 drama by Falk Richter (in a stilted translation by David Tushingham) is not a good play, and the Gate production by Maria Aberg doesn't do it any favours.

In a gated community more typical of America than Europe, a couple are protected not only by walls to keep out the undesirables, but by piped-in music and soothing wave sounds to drown out the gunshots and screaming. Late in the 80-minute play it will be suggested that those are not the noises of outsiders, but of insiders being stopped from trying to break out, but long before then the imperfections of this false paradise will have been exposed.

The character identified only as Man is beginning to lose faith in this empty existence, and his wife ('Woman') fears that the company that not only employs him but provides their accommodation will punish his lack of commitment and enthusiasm by firing him and evicting them.

He is finding the controlled luxury of their lives increasingly meaningless while she is going mad with panic at the prospect of losing it. As she becomes more and more manic (doing at least 80% of the talking), he sinks into a kind of narcolepsy, likely to drift off in the middle of one of her - or his own - speeches.

The play is structured in a spiral, circling its way repeatedly through a handful of themes without resolving any of them - his anomie, her fear of the outside, the emptiness of their marriage, the mysterious behaviour of their teenage son, and then back around again.

When the author has run out of ways to say the same few things again and again, the boy ('Boy') enters and behaves in a typically adolescent bratty way, though with overtones of enigmatic menace - the clearest implications are that he spends his nights hacking into the security system for unspecified nefarious purposes.

Director Maria Aberg and designer Naomi Dawson reflect the characters' trapped existence by placing a literal fourth wall between them and the audience, a wall of glass representing the floor-to-ceiling windows of their sparsely-furnished sitting room.

It's a strong image, but one that ultimately defeats itself, not only separating us emotionally from the play but forcing the actors to wear body mikes, further dehumanising them and repeatedly creating the disturbing effect of having the performer at one end of the long, narrow playing space while his or her voice is coming out of the speaker at the other end.

The actors - Geraldine Alexander, Jonathan Cullen and James Lamb - do their best to create characters and to pretend they're not embarrassed by some of the awkward and gratuitously sub-Pinteresque things they have to say.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - State of Emergency - Gate 2008