A British Subject is a highly political play, a multi-layered true story about justice, faith and the importance of a responsible Press.
The most surprising element of this production is that, unlike most political theatre, it is played as a page-turning thriller; it has a story to tell. Yes, it will anger many, but unlike most political theatre, which seems more intent on soliciting debate and reactions from the audience, A British Subject wants to intrigue with a ‘what’s going to happen next?’ approach.
It also feels like two plays. On one end, we have a taut story about Don Mackay, a journalist who is given the chance to write a story about an imprisoned British man of Pakistani descent sentenced to hang. We see Mackay’s journey for truth and amnesty, and it is told at a very quick pace with a parade of characters, all played by two actors.
It also has a lengthy scene in the middle of the action that is set in a Pakistani prison cell. This, between Mackay and condemned Tahir Hussain, feels like a short, deliberately paced one-act that is filled with foreboding and chilling insights into Hussain’s plight and possible execution. Here, there is no action, just a well-written scene that is so poetic that every image manages to linger throughout the rest of the play, serving as a grim reminder of what exactly is at stake.
As a production, the piece is very effective. It is well performed by its four cast members and equally brilliant in direction and design. However, if there are some flaws, they are found in Nichola McAuliffe’s script, which is full of great lines and characters but feels like it runs out of breathe near the end. However, the play does end on a final monologue that may be a bit preachy but is well earned, thus tying everything together effectively.
A British Subject is that rare combination of great performances, direction, writing and design. It has much more to say than most productions out there, and it manages to make one actively question the concept of law and order.
Playing at the Pleasance Courtyard until August 31.
Filed under: Edinburgh Festival 2009 |