Rivkah Brown felt that this production failed to live up to its conceptual promise
by Rivkah Brown
Saturday 26th May 2012, 11:26 BST
Fergus Blair’s ‘Director’s Notes’ to the programme of his self-authored Obedience/Authority were promising: setting the 1960s Milgram experiments as its ‘launching point’, he insisted vigorously ‘This isn’t a play about the Milgram experiments’. However, as the play - in which Mr. Morley (Andrew Room) is forced by an experiment-conducting doctor (Chloe France) to electrocute Mr. Bohlen (Matt Clayton) - unfolded, this claim became difficult to substantiate. The play fed too directly from the Milgram experiments: both literally - it never left the lab - and thematically, taking the exploitation of authority as its central pivot.
Much of the initial few minutes were spent in confusion - the situation seemed arbitrary, seeming to overlook such minor details as location, character and motive. Some glimmer of celebrity shone briefly over the character of Mr. Morley, only to be dropped and forgotten in the same breath. My hopes that this initial obscurity was part of the play’s mystique were deflated, as leaving unanswered such basic questions as ‘where are we?’ and ‘who is conducting the experiment?’ made the drama fundamentally implausible.
Such implausibility was most manifest at moments of climax - as an abused France lay quivering on the floor, the question tacitly put itself, ‘why can’t she just leave?’ There simply wasn’t enough fear underlying her obedience: two minutes after being violently beaten, we would find France looking grumpy in a corner. Equally worrying, the sudden psychosis that overcame Room and Clayton in the second half was totally unwritten in their characterisation in the first - and God knows at what point Room metamorphosed into Hunter S. Thompson.
I just didn’t get the concept: woven into the storyline was a bizarre meta-theatre about Mr. Morley’s Fear and Loathing-esque shenanigans in Mexico, meagrely hinted at by Room’s opening gambit about acid, but otherwise utterly irrelevant. Maybe Blair’s telling us something about ‘the surreal and the ordinary’, as his blurb had promised. Or Morley’s unconvincing drug addictions. Or maybe just unconvincing acting about unconvincing acting. How very meta-. Nor did I feel that the drama was sufficiently compelling in its own right not to require my comprehension: it was neither abstract enough to be ‘post-modern’, nor real enough to be credible.
The play ended with the same violent abruptness with which is began: the lights suddenly dimming, the room descending to a pindrop hush, a clammyhanded silence. When you have to wait until the lights come back up to know that a play has finished, something has gone wrong. Ultimately, Obedience/Authority’s refusal to resolve itself was not merely frustrating, but uncommunicative: I was not whether Blair, for all his lofty promises, actually had anything to tell us, or whether I was involved in a game of theatrical Chinese Whispers, and just not hearing it right.