by Sarah Grochala
It is sweltering hot and a guillotine like camera click is the only sound that fills the room, apart that is, from a boy’s desperate wail for his mother. So begins Sarah Grochala’s potent play S-27 which has been given an emotionally gut wrenching production at Finborough theatre in a piece which may not teach you anything new about the atrocities of human oppression but will place you right at the centre of it.
Nameless and faceless S-27’s stream through May’s room getting their photographs taken before walking ominously through their last door. But May is beginning to apply names and stories to these faces and as each person comes and goes, she takes on the role of a Confessor for the dead and her hard worn facade begins to crack.
Grochala cleverly keeps her unspecified regime invisible in all but May and her assistant June, whose evident pleasure in torture is the only physical indication of their terrifying power. But they are are inherently laced into every threatened ‘them’ and ‘they’ and the undercurrent of violence is evident in the terrified inmates and broken gaolers.
A series of one on one scenes slowly shows humanity cracking through this chilling oak of power but it also means that the wider picture is simplified down into black and white situations, the regime is clearly bad, the oppressed are clearly good, when perhaps a more subtle look at individuals working within these groups would have been more interesting. Grochala almost does this with an aggressive prisoner who used to be a bullying Police Captain, but it is the only glimpse of a less clear cut vision that we see.
This simplicity does lend itself to some raw emotional moments however which are performed with intense focus by the cast. Pippa Nixon brings a taut strength to May which melts beautifully into a hopeful idealism and Brooke Kinsella is both hateful and pitiable as the cold June.
S-27 may have an obvious message, but it succeeds in putting the audience for a moment into the shoes of both the oppressed and the oppressors and shows that even in the most desperate of situations hope springs eternal.
Runs until Saturday, 4 July 2009
Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm. Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm. Saturday Matinees at 3.00pm (from 20 June).
Review originally published on Broadway Baby http://www.broadwaybaby.com/