By Niki Campbell, content manager @Stagedoor
What is it that’s so delicious about dystopia?
The world of art has predicted, realised and moved through generations of dystopias, and we continue to create and dissect them now. We revel creatively in the pain and frustration, the chilling detail in our collective terror about the future. And why not…
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” — Banksy
Painting, which is set against a post-war background where people are not allowed to live outside their own country, might be described as just this.
Catching up with actor/writer Duarte Ventura ahead of the run of his debut play Painting, I’m psyched for a bleak discussion about Trump, the EU, racism and the meaning of life. But:
“The play is about hope, it’s a love story”
He announces softly with a characteristically cheeky smile. He knows me. I love a deep and meaningful about the end of the world.
He indulges me with a few details; revolution and war have resulted in dictatorship, little resources or technology and Matteo, a foreigner (played by Duarte) and Rose, a citizen (played by Zena Carswell) are forced to live underground, in hiding.
Together they try to survive the harsh reality of the outside world by escaping into their own fantasies.
And those fantasies are realised in Hazel, a carpenter that lives in a beautiful house at the top of a mountain (played by Leanne May Bennett), who’s debatable presence challenges both their love and their identity.
Coming from the tech world I’m curious if they have access to phones, technology, social media and Duarte quotes Albert Einstein, a notion that resonated with him when constructing the post tech realm of the play:
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones” — Albert Einstein
The world of the play is revealed not with detail but through the emotion and actions of it’s inhabitants. Duarte confesses that his own feelings as a Portuguese artist living in the UK have informed an element of this story but insists:
“This is not a play about Brexit”
He feels there is a lot of pressure on contemporary playwrights to get political:
“…that everything is becoming a statement rather than a story”
And he has written a story. Watching them rehearse I witnessed tenderness, chaos, fear, love and devotion all in ten minutes. I was so wrapped up in this relationship that I felt bereft when director Julia-Maria Eiben called the scene.
The mood of the play seemed to capture very well the tragedy in hope. We watch Rose and Matteo move seemlessly from idea to fantasy, from anger to laughter and it’s as if nothing is real, but all the while the elephant in the room, the outside world, waits. Distant enough to lose ones self for a moment but present enough to grieve for these people who remain, in spite of everything, in constant motion with love.
I ask him how it is to perform his own writing, he says:
“It’s tricky, there are moments when I really forget that I wrote this play,”
And conversely when it’s not working he wonders:
“Is it not working because I’m not delivering as an actor or because I’m not delivering as a writer… Which part of me is failing?!”
This nightmare, the self critic, is rife amongst artists but perhaps it can be of use if it drives you to fight for quality. And how better to strive for quality than to stage a story, work with others and continue to re-evaluate and reform.
The White Bear Theatre is one of many venues in London who support new writing and emerging talent. And luckily for their audiences there is no end to the number of people creating new work, posing questions and facing taboos.
We are and will always be fascinated by the notion of dystopia. As a human in this period of history, where shocking news comes down like rain, it can feel like there’s little time to recover from one tragedy before another begins.
It is overwhelming.
But the theatre offers us a space to be together, to face our fear and enjoy the catharsis of tears and laughter in spite of it all. And I admire those who create it!
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