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Detaining Mr K (24:7 Festival)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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New Century, Manchester

Joint directors James Douglas (who also wrote the play) and Wendy Richardson open their production of Detaining Mr K in style. We are not so much an audience as a panel reviewing the case of the detainee. As such we are issued an agenda rather than a programme. We are also recorded on CCTV making the subtle point that we could be the next person in detention.

Towards the end of his internment without charge, Anthony Marshall (Anthony Bentley) is interviewed by Pauline McWirter ( Ruth Urquhart) who uses tea and sympathy rather than physical coercion. She offers to prepare him for release - if he will just answer a few questions.

Detaining Mr K is essentially two plays for the price of one. The first is a darkly comic, almost absurdist examination of a society in which rules intended to secure public safety are used against citizens. It is well-balanced and goes so far as to suggest that, at times, such action might be justified. It is also funny in its application of Alice In Wonderland logic. Marshall, we are told, was arrested because the absence of evidence against him gave rise to suspicions.

In an abrupt shift writer Douglas moves to an analysis of the societal conditions that can give rise to extremist governments. It is still thought-provoking but demands such an complete change in characterisation as to remind us that we are, after all, watching a play.

In the initial scenes Bentley shows a battered sense of indignation at his unjust treatment and gathers strengthen from his sense of identity. He shows also the physical effects (flinching and involuntary twitching) of the abuse that he has suffered. Yet as the tone of the play changes these unrealistically cease and he becomes a different character.

The character of Pauline is essentially grotesque. Her extreme hairstyle and clothes bring to mind a Gerald Scarfe caricature. Urquhart struggles to convince that, underneath the brash exterior, there is a mind like a steel trap.

Detaining Mr K raises disturbing questions, but it's a shame that the creative team could not find a more consistent tone.

- Dave Cunningham


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