Paul T Davies reviews Oliver Bennett’s play Europe After The Rain winner of the Mercury Playwriting Prize 2017 now playing at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.
Winner of the Mercury Playwriting Prize 2017, Oliver Bennett’s play is not so much a post-Brexit play, but is set post post Brexit, and imagines a future where the US has pulled out of NATO. Refugees flock into England from the Ukraine, and, more worryingly, a far right Populist Party is on the verge of winning a UK election. The huge political background, which feels very possible given Trump’s Twitter feed, is explored in the personal lives of four dispirit characters, each a refuge from their past. Fascinatingly, the location is revealed as a fake beach, where even the sounds of waves are played on cassettes, created by Will’s father. Will harbours Yana and her daughter Marta, refugees, and the fragile balance of power between them shifts when Will’s old friend Max crashes into the beach.
Cara Nolan’s tight, imaginative, direction explores the characters in depth, and the strong cast play the rhythm of the script superbly. James Alexandrou is a strong, bullying Max, always seeking approving for his altruistic actions, clashing against Anna Koval’s icy Yana, determined to create new structures for her life, and covering up a past that isn’t what Will believes it is. Natasha Kafka is beautifully fragile as her teenage daughter Marta, using internet quizzes to attempt to form her own identity, fed up of being torn from pillar to post by her mother. And Simon Haines is wonderful as Max, a sketchy dreamer with no fixed plan based in reality, witty and hilarious, yet exposing the truth of the fake beach.
There are some underdeveloped ideas. Max suffers from narcolepsy and blacks out, but this is not maintained and used mainly to trigger scene changes, and the relationship between Yana and Marta could be explored more- what can Marta do with her future? But as a symbol of an idealised Britain, evoking memories of childhood trips to the seaside, it’s fascinating how the beach gradually becomes littered and dirty by the inhabitants, especially after Will’s Dad is exposed as the mastermind of the right wing party’s popularity, and, as they sweep to power, Will considers working for them as his only option. Max begins to attempt to reform the landscape, burying truths and identities as a strong wind begins to blow, one that is not fake, and will eventually wear away the location anyway.
Oliver Bennett has written a play teeming with ideas, that has the perfect running time to debate these characters and situations. Amelia Jane Hankin’s effective design uses rope to create prison bars that trap the characters in their unreal environment even more. This is an impressive playwriting debut, intriguing and enjoyable, and this thought provoking and entertaining new play is worth catching!
Until 9 June 2018