Jonathan Hall reviews David Greig’s play Europe now playing at Leeds Playhouse.
A remote border town- little more than a factory, a station and a club. The wolves roam the surrounding pine forests, but are increasingly encroaching on the town. The factory is rationalising its workforce and even the station is closing; soon the trains from Amsterdam, Warsaw and Berlin will thunder through without stopping as the pavements and squares become strewn with litter as the lives and aspirations of the town’s inhabitants degenerate into hardship and fear. A 2007 review of David Harrower’s 1994 drama written in response to the Balkan’s war said that the play had lost none of its relevance; sadly those were exactly my thoughts on seeing this energetic revival at the Leeds Playhouse. Many of the play’s themes- economic implosion, attitudes to refugees – find disturbing echoes in current news headlines dominated by Syria, Donald Trump and Brexit.
The arguments and ideas are humanised into an eclectic collection of characters; the displaced father and daughter who’ve seen the their own town degenerate into decay and anarchy, and the factory workers, disposed and dispossessed by ‘rationalisation’. There’s the sleazy local wide boy made good on his dealings in currency and passports and the girl who watches holiday programmes, looks down the tracks and dreams of a life beyond. All are overseen by the regulation-obsessed stationmaster trying desperately to enforce rules no longer relevant and make sense of a timetable that no longer applies.
This is a play of ideas, angry relevant ideas. In the first half these ideas had a tendency to dominate the characters; it was only in the second half for me when the play really caught fire- like the decayed railway station- and we saw the full brutal impact of these concepts on the characters as reaction drove action to disturbing outcomes, outcomes all too believable in Britain 2018.
The edgy nature of this play makes it perfect for the rebranded Leeds Playhouse’s Pop up Space; the bricks concrete and girders of the temporary theatre seamlessly blending into the shabby doors and rusty tracks of Amanda Stoodley’s set.
The story is served by a strong and committed cast; notable are Dan Parr as the bemused and angry factory worker betrayed both politically and emotionally, and Jo Mousely as the cynical refugee prepared to hide herself, her ideals and her emotions, doing whatever is necessary in order to survive. Alex Nowak is particularly chilling as a man who makes the journey from good bloke and drinking buddy to murderer all too plausible and in doing so shows how perilously thin is the line between order and anarchy.
The energetic direction by James Brining drives Grieg’s complex overlapping script and manages to imbue the more complex arguments of ideology with a dramatic engine, which fights against any flagging of the text.
Coming home from the evening and seeing a news dominated by Brexit made me wish more people were willing to turn off from shows like ‘Love island’ and engage with contemporary issues and ideals as David Greig was back in 1994.
Until 3 November 2018