Terrorism, a word that needs no introduction.
Guillermo Calderon, the Chilean playwright, has tackled this topic with a unique angle in his new drama, B. Directed by Sam Pritchard, B is a farcical display of underground, small-scale terrorism, depicting a pair of young women and their attempt to plant a bomb (or “cheese” as they come to refer to it throughout the evening) for the supposed purpose of giving an aggressive warning to the government.
Calderon’s play is set in the time of the Chilean dictatorship and these women come from a terrorist group who have seen death and imprisonment in their ranks. This is their plan for retribution. Interestingly however, throughout the play, diverging motives come to light at the surface and it becomes clear that there are definite ideological differences between these women as well as the man who has come to supply the bomb. Questions are raised such as: Should we kill? Would we kill? Would we go to prison? This produces definite disparities and sources of tension, raising interesting debates on the purpose, reasons for and the results of the revolt.
The original cover for their night of scheming is a birthday party, giving the play a clever edge as the tone of the play is one of corrupted fun, visually portrayed by the black balloons in the apartment. This angle provides a sense of the amateurish activities that are going down which could almost be seen as a game, despite the fact their game has the potential to murder and wreck havoc. This makes the play both extremely funny and extremely uncomfortable.
Clever costume design also sees coloured t-shirts being used as balaclavas as the characters attempt to disguise their identities from one another. A comical opening scene in which they try and guess whether each character is smiling or not, produces another absurd paradox between games and criminal activity. Throughout the play, these masks are removed as the characters begin to open up about their motives and fears for planting the “cheese”. This has the effect of both removing some of the humour and humanising their struggle. A confusing political position for the play as a commentary on the act of terrorism: it isn’t demonising, it isn’t glorifying.
The characters weave themselves into elaborate lies. For example, Marcela, one of the women, tells us how her boyfriend has supposedly died on a mountain because of a terrorist attack. This boyfriend also happens to be best friends with their companion, Jose Miguel, because they were missionaries together in Vietnam. These amusing tales again create humour in the plot.
B is a play that cannot be defined. It is absurdist in many ways; it is a comedy about something deeply unsettling and serious. The acting is verging on melodramatic, whilst remaining comfortably realistic. What it provides is a feeling that there is no real way to unite or divide people in the chaos of life and confusion of politics and makes for some extremely interesting watching.
B played at the Royal Court Theatre until October 21
Photo: Helen Murray