American Pilot, the second piece in the RSC's 'new work' season, takes flight where Solstice before it, failed to illuminate.
Written by the prolific David Greig who recently had two plays running in London, Pilot is a timely meditation on American hegemony: economic, cultural - and military. Set in an unspecified Near or Middle Eastern country, it examines the world's love-hate relationship with 'the world's only superpower'.
An American pilot falls out of the sky and into the lives of a group of villagers. To Evie, daughter of the farmer who found him, he is the object of her prayers, harbinger of a better life, symbolised by a vision of a great new dam.
To the captain, waging an un-winnable war against a Government supported by the United States, he is an unsought nuisance; to 'the trader', a source of possible profit, to the 'interpreter', an object of both loathing and attraction.
Greig's achievement is to create a credible range of individual characters and voices that rarely tip into caricature and which together explore the complex feelings that America provokes. The interpreter describes with wonder his experiences in USA during a trip to San Diego where a shop wall "bigger than your house" is given over solely to displaying different types of orange juice.
But the land of consumerism where trains are "more like palaces", also brought loneliness and refuge in "cigarettes, drink and pornography". By contrast "in 1980 there was poetry and jasmine trees in this country", the Interpreter tells the pilot. But then the Americans intervened, supporting a struggle to overthrow the Marxist-Leninist government, in the process killing the captain's daughter during a missile attack. "Not a particle remained."
Thankfully, apart from the adoption of an American accent by the pilot, there is no attempt to do others, the cast instead using British regional accents. The design by Lizzie Clachan is sparse and to the point, a single branch with blossom evoking the jasmine trees spoken of by the interpreter; rugs, cushions, a tea urn and few objects of furniture suggesting a simple interior.