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First Draft
Camden People's Theatre
22nd August 2014

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for First Draft

Photography provided by Open Heart Surgery Theatre

There are some questions which have no simple answers. For human society, there are none more fundamental than those that query the bedrock of our daily lives: what is peace? In First Draft, playwright Coleen MacPherson attempts to confront the struggles surrounding peace, of course investigating war and the modern embodiments of capitalism and conflict, with a special dig at the USA.

First Draft flirts with both contemporary expressionism and surrealist post-apocalyptic drama, as we have only two performers (Charlotte Baseley and Louise Callaghan) who play a multitude of characters, some of whom are repeated or have continued dialogue. The most common scenario is one in which humanity seems to have been reduced to an imprisoned underground state surviving on some sort of societal life-support machine which could break down or have the plug pulled at any moment. Harmony it seems reigns here, but perhaps only because the fight has been nuked out of humanity.

As we cycle through these scantily constructed scenes, which all take shape slowly, the two performers deliver their hugely varied roles with little to signpost what is coming next other than strangely eclectic props. These are also used in various abstract ways, such as plastic stools as zimmer frames or the scooter that is used as a gun - this at least has a double message about the toys of conflict and the popularisation of the weapons of the corporate machine - that is to say, commercial goods.

Whilst we get the feeling that there are a lot of layers to the messages of this piece, some of which shine through quite well, there are a number of others, which don't quite achieve what they set out to do. Why were there old people watching television? We could hazard a guess but most people would probably have a difference in opinion here. While that can sometimes be a useful device, we're left wanting something more concrete.

The drama in the scene between the Russian student and the British researcher is far easier to interpret, probably as it is draws on conventional theatre. The two visits we have to them deliver a message unambiguously: there is an international difference of opinion on the nature of war and peace, particularly between East and West and even more so between pragmatists and idealists. The juxtaposition of this in the context of a failed romantic encounter is a two-minute metaphor for the last 150 years of human conflict (spoiler alert: it doesn't end well).

Sarah Warren's direction has some clever touches, such as the dramatic lighting, which includes the full run from subtle to stark. The beginning scene in modern dance is also sweetly innocent. The short bursts of humour which break up the tragedy are all the more effective for their unexpectedness.

The seeming conclusion is one which forces the cognitive dissonance of the idea of "fighting for peace" right into our minds, and explains the ambiguous title: our actors are the first to be drafted for peace rather than for war. How to fight the fighting is indeed a question without a simple answer, especially as we continue - has there ever really been a break? - to wage battles across the world, one way or another, with little thought for the inevitable consequences.

First Draft ran from 21st to 23rd August at Camden People's Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. It next runs from 18th to 22nd November 2014 at The Vaults, as part of Mimetic Festival.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)



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