Wednesday, October 6, 2010


And babies, iconic anti-Vietnam War poster

James Saunders’ 1970s play Games consists of eight sections and a company of four rehearsing a piece based around a Reuter report on the US court-martial of a soldier for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, March 16 1968.
It moves from disconnected words and phrases which gradually coalesce into sense as the performers march on the spot like soldiers, through an actor and his director rehearsing a scene:
‘Why did you shoot them?’
‘Because they was Vietcong.’
‘Where was the babies?’
‘They was in their mothers' arms.’  
to rebellions and disruptions by the actors:
‘We talk about theatre.  Outside there’s a war going on and we talk about theatre.’
But each time the disruptions might seem real, the play reins them in and they become another layer of the performance, another game.  It is a clever way of challenging an audience’s levels of acceptance of the conventions and pretence of theatre. 
The piece also touches on how news itself is used as a commodity:
‘It’s beautiful.
Really extraordinary…
…it’s absolutely true.  It’s a Reuter report, a straight Reuter report.’
Daniel Austin’s recent powerful production with Jersey Arts Centre youtheatre emphasized this aspect by having the four actors seated like newsreaders at tables, with images projected onto a screen behind them.
Starting with old footage of the Apollo moon landings and the performers quietly reading interwoven, gently-rhythmic extracts from the screenplay of Platoon, a Native American poem, and pieces on the rules of warfare and on acting, the scenes were also intercut with:
  • a live BBC newsfeed, (the content fed by chance was on the Delhi Commonwealth Games and concerns about safety)
  • The iconic Russian roulette scene from the 1978 film The Deer Hunter.  Under 18s were asked to leave the auditorium to comply with the film licence and all of the actors retired to the green room.  (Watching the film in this context one was really conscious of it as performance.)
  • A very moving montage of images of the My Lai massacre, (a sense of the victims was absent from the original script, rooted as it was in a point in time.)
  • Breaks when the cast elicited responses and questions from the audience.
  • As an added layer, a young actor appeared as Daniel Austin, the third director of Jersey Arts Centre.  At the end of the performance he was left alone in a fading square of light, allowing us to conjure up a sense of George Ritchie, the first director of Jersey Arts Centre, who was not there but to whom the performance was dedicated.
The production was beautiful, evocative and uplifting and yet also provocative and unsettling, raising questions for me such as:

  • What is a true response to news/theatre? 
  • To what extent do we fake our responses?  That we all perform...
  • How much do we really want to care?  
  • How we want to consume news in five minute bites with the blood, pain and violence to some degree neutralised, so that we can continue our daily lives, not too moved or affected...
  • Just in using images of the My Lai victims, as I have done in this blog, there is an element of guilt.  The commodification of tragedy. 
  • And the ethics of war photography, of detachment, of 'capturing' the iconic image instead of helping individual victims.
  • The ethics of any cultural usage.   

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