The Tricycle Theatre announced that it would go nuclear, and it indeed did, with its new play, The Bomb – a partial history, an explosive device of political theatre that is presented in two parts (First Blast: Proliferation and Second Blast: Present Dangers).
Director Nicholas Kent meticulously engineered The Bomb by using ten different short plays from nine writers, which highlight the developments of the nuclear bomb from its beginnings in the 40’s right up to the future of 2015.
Although all parts of the First Blast have an impact, there are two short plays that are particularly mind-blowing.
The first one is Seven Joys, by Lee Blessing, who created an ingenious and humours allegory of the nuclear club, by transforming it into an “ordinary” gentlemen’s club.
In this gentlemen’s club a Russian brakes in and defends himself, by claiming he only wanted to find his way out, a Chinese cook infiltrates through the kitchen, and a French woman finds access, by using an irresistible accent and the obligatory, small black dress.
While the “gentlemen” fight over illicit members and their illegal eggs, (a symbol not too hard to guess) as well as the size of their own eggs, one orders a couple of warheads for supper and reveals the entanglements of “a new world” created by the bomb – or in this case: the egg.
Option (by Amit Gupta), the second outstanding play, does not owe its brilliance to the writing per se, neither to the rather boring stage setting, but to an eminent performance by Paul Bhattacharjee, who plays a Muslim “philosopher of science” in 1968, India.
The Gandhian physician is caught up in a debate about the pros and cons of India’s acquisition of their own atom bomb. After pleading against the concept of PNE (Peaceful Nuclear Explosion) and for pacifism to no avail, he sees no choice and resigns.
Even though the other plays are shadowed by these performances, the remaining three short plays certainly add to the entire performance.
In the first play, From Elsewhere: the message, by Zinnie Harris, two exiled German scientist battle not only with their consciousness, but with the much more stubborn British bureaucracy.
In the consecutive play, Calculated Risk, by Ron Hutchinson, the new British Prime Minister Clement Attlee is embroiled in an argument between leftist Ernest Bevin, a supporter of the nuclear bomb, and Simon Chandler, a pacifist Field Marshall.
Lastly, the comedy, Little Russians, by John Donnelly, brings us to 1993, Ukraine, where an Ukrainian triumvirate gets hold of a Russian warhead. The trio, equipped with some Kalashnikovs and Irish accents, tries everything to sell the warhead to the highest bidder, even by means of the mother’s knickers.
On the first glance, the different plays seem to be unconnected, besides the mutual topic, but soon it becomes obvious that the plays are united by the underlying political and social paradoxes which the atom bombs evokes, whether for scientists, politicians or arms dealers.
It is Hobbes’ Prisoners Dilemma, Josephs Heller’s Catch 22, and Schrödinger’s cat all mixed up in a box and open to watch for everyone. Of course, the play does not reveal everything about the bomb, but it never attempts to, as already the name reveals (a partial history).
Nevertheless, it is a fine patchwork of dissected history, which has been artistically put together by Nicholas Kent, who will, unfortunately, leave The Tricyle soon. This play definitely releases the viewer more educated into a world, where the same atomic hazard is still acute and ubiquitous.
Political theatre is hardly the most creative and avant-garde when it comes to stage design, costumes, lightning and the interaction of characters with their surroundings. Although The Bomb lacks a finesse in these matters as well, it is still interesting and imaginative at times.
The implementation of videos is especially good in Seven Joys or in between the plays, when interval videos offer an informative respite from the verbiage on stage. Unlike in The Riots, the predecessor of The Bomb, we are spared of long monologues.
Instead, we see vivacious interactions between the actors and at times even with the stage that changes for every new play. This is mainly due to a talented cast of actors, who convince with their versatility.
All in all, The Bomb is an entertaining and funny historical lesson about one of the world’s most exigent perils and its vicious circle of reaction to fear and creation of fear.