Menace is sometimes much easier to communicate in film or television than on stage. Noises and music amplify the terror. Theatre Alibi’s production of The Ministry of Fear, which Daniel Jamieson has adapted from the Graham Greene novel achieves its effect very cleverly indeed with a cast of six playing multiple roles and two instrumentalists tucked to the side of Trina Bramman’s ingenious set.
We are in England during the height of the Second World War. London and other major cities rock under the onslaught of the Blitz. Refugees of all shades of political opinion plan and plot for the future. The government takes its precautions. Ordinary people just get on with their lives; they live, they love, they die. Arthur Rowe (Chris Bianchi) knows all about that – he’s emerged from a prison term and finds himself at a church fête where the attractions include a fortune-teller’s booth and guessing the weight of a delectable-looking cake.
Nikki Sved’s production whirls us along as Arthur is enmeshed ever more tightly in plot and counter-plot. Bianchi is extremely good as this everyman figure burdened with not-quite-expiated guilt faced with making decisions which may have unbelievable ramifications. Craig Edwards is also outstanding as the fortune-teller Mrs Bellairs and the ex-army officer whose paranoid fantasies lurch far too near the truth for Derek Frood’s Dr Forester. Jordan Whyte and Benjamin Warren play the Austrian refugees with multiple agendas and Michael Wagg is, among others, the enigmatic Mr Sinclair.
It all ends with an embrace but the music of Thomas Johnson through the strings, brass and woodwind of Nick Laughlin and Adam Cross screeches out a darker solution. The title says it all – this is the equivalent of Kafka’s and Orwell’s nightmare territories. You can’t really escape it because it has no definable boundaries. Like Bramman’s set of odd-angled girders from which unlikely add-ons descend and curved rampway which is both ascent from horror and descent into it, you only recognise dead ends too late for evasion. It doesn’t make for a comfortable piece of theatre, but it does create an attention-gripping one.