Monday, 20 January 2014

Review: fiji land, Southwark Playhouse

“We don’t want to know what’s going on”

Wise people in Skid Row once counselled “don’t feed the plants”, but the threat there was clear in the shape of Audrey 2. But over in the undefined anonymity of fiji land, three men are under orders to do just that – when the siren sounds, they’ve to feed and water the plants under their charge. But they’ve not to question why, they’re not allowed to know each other’s names, and when the orders start to darken in an ominous manner, it foreshadows the deterioration of their own situation.

Even with the best will in the world, one couldn’t really begin to explain what happens in Nick Gill’s play and why, and I think he’d be exactly fine with that. His writing is allusively thick and his approach to convention somewhat offbeat – to criticise fiji land for not having enough narrative development seems to be flying in the face of the playwright’s intentions. But sat in the smaller space of the Southwark Playhouse, it is also a little difficult to adjudge just what those aims are.

What does become clear, eventually and momentarily, is that Gill has written an allegory for torture and wartime abuses. Some plants are left unwatered, some are taken away to the ovens, some are removed from their pots – others have loud music blasted out at them, suffer waterboarding and even sexual abuse as one of the men pleasures himself with one hand in the soil and the other… And during this treatment, the consequences of being so complicit plays out vividly on the workers.

Alice Malin’s production deals well with the unfolding absurdist nightmare, chopping it up into random chunks divided by blackouts and keeps Max Pappenheim’s burbling soundscape as a most menacing backdrop. Jake Ferretti and Matthew Trevannion are both compelling as the new guys whom are affected in highly different ways by events, and Stephen Bisland’s inscrutable leader gives little away aside from his green-fingered proclivities. At times perplexing, occasionally shocking, but always powerful.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 8th February 

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