The basic idea underpinning Falk Richter’s State of Emergency (here translated by David Tushingham) is that when the haves and the have-nots become too polarised, as symbolised by the utopian gated community in which the central characters live, the resulting mix of fear, boredom and inevitable in-breeding soon turns the whole operation into an Orwellian nightmare.
Heard it all before? Perhaps. But nevertheless, in an age when the wealthy are increasingly isolating themselves in paranoid gated enclaves to shut out the realities of poverty and crime, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the problems this can breed. Although I couldn’t help but feel I’d rather be observing life for those outside the gates than the rather stale and monotonous bickering of the Man (Jonathan Cullen) and Woman (Geraldine Alexander) trapped inside.
The dialogue is driven by the Woman, with Alexander’s menacing performance providing by far and away the most compelling component of the evening. The action, such as it is, takes place inside Naomi Dawson’s plain and altogether dour flat setting, separated from the audience by panes of glass. Like insects in a tank, we watch the Man getting slowly devoured by his black widow of a wife, as she berates him for his poor performance at work, in the bedroom (they schedule sex “once a fortnight”) and as a Father to their rebellious teenage Son (James Lamb).
There are apocalyptic implications peppered throughout the text, such as the multiple deaths of children who have attempted to cross the barricades, and the idea that the Man, much like a defunct computer, is in danger of being imminently replaced. This creepy feeling that we are witnessing the creation of an uber-race is certainly the most disturbing idea on offer.
But for all the imagined sub-text the lack of palpable drama is a problem. The Man is far too flaccid to offer any real resistance to the Woman, the Boy appears too late to have any lasting impact, and on the whole the evening makes far less of an impression than it probably should. 80 minutes spent watching insects would no doubt have an equal, if not more potent effect.