Red Phoenix Theatre. Holden Street Theatres. 2 Nov 2017
Revolutions begin with words. They are sustained and powered by words as moral motivation and weapons of attack. Vaclav Havel’s The Conspirators was written not long after his works were banned by Communist Czechoslovakia and the brief period of liberalisation from Communist rule of 1968 was brutally repressed by direct Soviet invasion.
Director Michael Eustice’s production wields the comic power of Havel’s words and their darker side with incisive aplomb, delivered by a cast equally adept at balancing the light and deep darkness at the heart of a manipulative, repressive political machine.
Conspiracy is a paranoia born of a revolution seeking to survive and maintain its momentum. Viva la revolution! It comes to life when an uprising threatens an establishing dictatorship, forcing elites to decide where their best safety lies, the public’s more liberal democratic instinct being a side issue.
The survival conspiracy, and its conspirators, are dressed in delightfully bright Liechtenstein 50s inspired costumes by Libby Drake, backgrounded by Nicholas Ely’s white chalk political slogans adorning black walls.
The cheerful visual clash of light and dark is superbly matched in performance and language.
Light hearted pantomime crossed with melodrama is the style, perfectly accenting the very serious and dangerous nature of the proceedings political slogans shade.
Wheels within wheels turn. Well to do widow Helga (Emily Branford), her sister Edith (Martha Lott) and husband, State Prosecutor Dykl (Tony Busch), and Joint Chief of Staff head Major Ofir (Adrian Barnes) find themselves in a dance to manage Colonel Moher, Chief of Police Intelligence (Brant Eustice.)
It’s as thrillingly entertaining as it is a sombre reflection not only of the past, but the present day global political climate. Helga often reinterprets Ofir’s political language to best suit the regime. Her sister’s husband Dykl does his best to play things two ways. Head of Censorship Aram (Nick Fagan) keeps much to himself but is exceedingly polite. All fear Colonel Moher. All are warily working around him, to save themselves by insinuating themselves into power somehow. A family affair, effectively.
Emily Branford and Brant Eustice are magnificent opposites in this dance of power. Branford’s comically flirtatious performance matches well with Eustice’s intense, yet ridiculously bombastic political thug of a character whose words are genuinely dangerous.
Equally effective are the rest of the cast, particularly Martha Lott’s comically risk averse Edith, Adrian Barnes’ affable, easily manipulated Ofir, Tony Busch’s bumbling Dykl and Anna Bampton’s superb character play as Ruth, Dykl’s attractive but possibly dangerous secretary.
The Conspirators successfully reaches the fearful and questioning mind through its humour. It needs no raging anger to make clear the dangers to human dignity and freedom it addresses, given it is borne of a time when such dangers were a brutal reality not needing to be accented. Sadly those times are still with us on the globe, and threaten being unleashed in places least expected.
When: 2 to 11 Nov
Where: Holden Street Theatres