Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: Motortown

It's probably pretty rare that a play about the horrific effects of war will trigger post-traumatic stress in people who were never actually involved in one. There are certainly a couple of scenes in Red Stitch's new play Motortown that will probably have me waking in a cold sweat for nights to come, or else freaking out small children with my hollow thousand-yard stare. But I'm not going to get all "you wouldn't understand cos you weren't THERE dammit" on you readers because when you enlisted you couldn't have known that you wouldn't see combat, but would instead be stuck in front of your computer screen reading about my exploits at the front line. It could just as easily have been the other way round. I strapped up and took everything this one could shell out because I know you would have done the same for me.

When Danny comes home to his crappy hometown in Essex, he's really got nothing bad to say about his whole tour of duty in Basra. The way he puts it, Iraq was mostly ginger beer and shennanigans with the lads. Of course, he does seem a little haunted and sometimes goes quiet and intense for no apparent reason and is also sort of obsessed with a girl he'd been dating briefly before he went off to war. And when he finds out that she's not interested any more and sets about getting a gun from some dodgy London types, I began to wonder if Danny hadn't maybe left a little bit of himself back in Basra, if you smell what I'm cooking, and perhaps everyone else should start practicing their zig-zag running skills because young Daniel was about to bring the War on Terror back home. Then I thought: nah, you're reading too much into things. After all, it's not like we've ever come across a story about a veteran who can't escape the memories of what he was forced to do and ends up perpetuating the cycle of violence modern war is founded upon.

OK, so this tale might just be a noughties update of the post-Vietnam drama that taught us that sometimes war had its downside and we might want to think twice about sending our impressionable young kids off to another one. There's a good whiff of the classic film Coming Home here, grafted onto a self-conscious homage to Taxi Driver and even a bit of Rambo: First Blood. Luckily, even though I felt like I'd seen a lot of this stuff before, I didn't really get much of a chance to rest my peepers because the level of tension along with the A-grade performances the Stitchers deliver is shock and awe stuff.

From the measured build-up which tracks Danny's complex mental state to the honestly surprising climax (equally surprising since it sort of happens in the middle) to the scenes which follow and give some depth to the piece, there's not much to fault this production. The script is possessed of sparkling dialogue and the cast get their teeth into it without overplaying at all, but I can't help but feel that there's not much underneath it all that we don't already know, and it's even perhaps prurient to actually play out the horror when we do know this stuff.

At the same time, this is a production worth catching just for those fantastic performances and the superbly drawn characters, Brett Cousins as Danny on stage for nearly the entire show and only ever less than compelling when sharing the space with Dion Mills' hypnotically watchable Lee. It's a hard show to stomach and it's not even the kind of play I normally like, but nobody shirks in their duties here and the audience is left to patch up their wounds the best they can. Some leaflets in the foyer suggesting places we could seek therapy might have helped, but I guess that's better than when your government sends you off to war and then turns its back on you after you bring your shattered soul back home. It's that trickle-down effect.

Oh and there's an election tomorrow, too. Hope that all goes swimmingly.

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