Well, I’m confused. Duncan Battman’s two short plays certainly ask a lot of questions, but the answers are much less forthcoming. The first play, Consequences, opens with the police finding the body of a man, Norman, who has died by suicide. In his spartan flat, they find a note he has written: “not a confession…but an explanation”. They soon learn that things are a lot more complicated than they first appeared.
The two police officers, played with sincerity and humour by Jon Carstairs and Rajan Sharma, must decide what to do with they information they have uncovered. This raises a lot of interesting questions about truth, guilt and justice, and how relevant they are when there’s no one left alive to benefit from them. There’s a discussion about the the things that aren’t black and white, “the space between A and B”. But many of the questions are left unanswered: will the police officer do the ‘right’ thing? Do the dead deserve justice? Just how culpable is Norman?
Norman, played by Pete Picton, begins by narrating his note, explaining the disappearance of a young woman named Cilla fifteen years ago. As the play continues, we see more of their relationship developing. The whole play has a rather flat, emotionless feel to it, a lack of real feeling to the relationships, which is only exacerbated by Norman’s deliberate reticence. We see them briefly live together in a typical odd-couple dynamic – he’s a quiet, reserved librarian who seems to care about books more than people, she’s a sex worker recovering from addiction. But gradually they find some common ground – she learns to love poetry while he seems to enjoy her quirky humour and honesty. Cilla (played by Michelle McKay), as the only female character, is unfortunately one-dimensional, relentlessly cheerful despite being homeless and going through heroin withdrawal.
The play ends with Norman’s suicide portrayed on stage, so please be aware if this might be triggering for you.
The second play in this double bill, The Book, is a lot more visually interesting but even more confusing. The opening is beautifully atmospheric, as we are led into the darkened space by two of the actors, dressed in black and carrying lanterns. The floor is covered with sand, and a man (Rajan Sharma) has been blindfolded and tied to a chair. Once the audience is seated, a second prisoner (Michelle McKay) is brought in and also tied up.
The use of silence in the piece is impressive. The guards never talk, and their actions seem even more menacing without words to give them meaning. One guard, played by director Jaymes Aaron, takes a hammer out of his bag, gently hitting it against his palm in a way that suggests measured, deliberate violence.
The guards’ decisions – who gets untied first, who gets water first – leave the prisoners questioning their every thought and action. Do they want me to untie you? Are we supposed to drink the water? Is this what they want, what they expect? The whole play is an exploration of intent and agency, of how we make the right choices without clues to guide us. The only surprising thing is how unfazed they seem by the ordeal. They never question the guards, don’t know if they’ll even get out alive, but they mostly seem more irritated than terrified. The woman in particular seems remarkably upbeat, even making jokes about the other prisoner’s remark that “knowledge is dangerous”.
There are, of course, no obvious answers. The discovery of a book, which they hope will give them some instruction, some guidance or advice, only leads to further questions. If there are themes connecting the two pieces, then the most obvious one is books, their power to heal people, perhaps even to save them. There’s also an exploration of the universal desire to connect with another human being, to trust one another and to share experiences. I just wish this experience had made a little more sense.
Consequences & The Book will continue its run at The Space until 12th March, at 19:45 every day and 14:00 on Saturday. You can book your tickets from 020 7515 7799 or http://www.space.org.uk
CAST AND CREW
Playwright: Duncan Battman
Director: Jaymes Aaron
Production Design: Clotilde Lataille
Norman (Consequences): Pete Picton
Danny (Consequences)/Guard (The Book): Jon Carstairs
Cilla (Consequences)/Prisoner (The Book): Michelle McKay
Alan (Consequences)/Prisoner (The Book): Rajan Sharma
Guard (The Book): Jaymes Aaron
Prisoner (The Book): Sue Harry