Theatre Uncut are commissioning a collection of plays from around the world as a response to international socio-political and economic events. The five I've just seen in the Theatre Tent here at Latitude are just the first of around 15 (they think) that will be presented first as staged readings at the Edinburgh Fringe, then more fully in London in the autumn.
Theatre Uncut first happened in 2011 as a response to the public spending cuts in the UK. This new incarnation of the project is much wider in its scope and includes plays from the US, Syria, Greece and Iceland. All will be world premieres and, as in 2011, all will be available for groups around the world to perform rights-free during the period of the autumn event. It's an exciting way of opening up political theatre to the people and last year's event had a real buzz to it.
Today's plays were a mixed bunch, as you'd expect, given that most have been written very recently (for no fee, it's worthwhile pointing out) and were only very roughly staged, the actors in their own clothes with scripts in hand.
The first was Neil LaBute's In the Beginning, a piece examining intergenerational responses to the Occcupy movement in America. A black father and son argue about the son's motivation to protest, the father questioning the sincerity of the young man's feelings. I'm told this piece has had the longest gestation of the five I saw this afternoon - it shows: these characters are properly developed - complex and contradictory. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the piece is an issue that's never spoken about but just fizzes away beneath its surface: a comparison between the father's experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and the son's in the Occupy movement. It's meaty stuff.
The second play, Hayley Squires's Blondie works less well but makes up for a rather confused beginning and middle with a powerful end. Set in a distopian future where a beautiful female politician comes to power only to tyrannise the society she promised to save, the play asks us to consider how and why we engage with the processes of democracy. The gratuitousness of the descriptions of violence in the play unfortunately undermines the power of the images Squires is attempting to conjure, alienating audience members in the process. But there's an interesting point being made in there somewhere.
The third piece was Ayer by Spanish playwright Helena Torina. It concerns a policeman who plays saboteur during a peaceful protest to insight people to violence. His girlfriend, a protester herself, finds him out and demands answers. Torina hasn't developed these characters well enough for their five-month-old, supposedly deeply passionate relationship to have any truth to it, but it was refreshing to see the issue of protest and police brutality/betrayal tackled on stage.
Greek playwright Lena Kitsopoulou's The Price brought welcome comic relief to the proceedings. Set in a Greek supermarket, the play is a parodic examination of the choices people are forced to make when austerity bites.
The final play, the only one by a writer involved in the initial 2011 project, was Breakout by Anders Lustgarten. Very different in style from the impassioned monologue Lustgarten himself performed in 2011, this brief, funny two-hander calls upon its audience to consider what the playwright presents as the 'prison' of Western capitalist consumer society. The tone is tongue-in-cheek, but just as with other examples of Lustgarten's work, there's a rallying cry here. "You can either be comfortably miserable or scarily free", says one character to the other as they contemplate breaking out of their cosy prison. It's clear what Lustgarten - and Theatre Uncut - would want us to choose.
Given that the team behind Theatre Uncut is insisting that this Latitude performance is an "awareness-raising event" rather than a tour of the show, it seems a bit unfair to give it a star rating. I've had to, however, so please read the four stars you see at the top of this review less as a judgement on what I've seen, and more as an indication that I'm looking forward to seeing more of where this came from.