The landlord of the Cock Tavern is clearly an obliging
fellow. He’s given his upstairs room over to a theatre company, has allowed
them into his pub for the second act of La bohème and now
opens up his cellar for the next play in this riveting Edward Bond series.
The site-specific element of Hamish MacDougall’s
production of The Under Room is entirely apt, of
course. Against a whirr of
generators, his three actors (Donnla Hughes, Matt Christian Reed and Gavin
Brocker) work hard at Bond’s elliptical text. A little too hard perhaps, as everything is taken at full
pelt and cries out for a little light and shade.
The psychological states of the playwright’s
characters are usually difficult to discern and especially so here. One can’t help feeling this is an
acting out of ideas, as the trio’s thoughts and feelings rise and fall through
a tense and climactic scenario.
A young African man, an illegal immigrant, has
broken into a woman’s house. She chooses to protect him and try to spirit him
away to safety. This is some 65
years into the future and the police have evolved into the army. A people trafficker adds a menacing
The device of a dummy standing in for the black man
(while the actor voices his contributions from afar) may look like a wilful
conceit but allows a scene of some ferocity to take place, reminiscent of
The Sea’s mad draper, as fabric flies in all directions.
It’s as shocking and brutal as anything Bond’s
written, an indication that his powers are far from waning.