Fiji Land may have been groundbreaking at the time of its first reading in 2007, shortly after the Guantanamo Bay revelations. Seven years on, though, and a whole swathe of films, television programmes and books have been produced on the subject of torture, with many offering a far more complex and provocative argument than Nick Gill’s hour and 20 minutes.
Whilst the metaphor offers an, at times, slightly bemusing take on the matter, the whole structure is all a bit too literal and underestimates the audience’s capacity to decipher meaning. For example, we quickly gather that the host of pot plants that the characters’ work centres around represent people. As they are selected arbitrarily to be watered or left to die, and eventually, when a whole row is destroyed in the ovens, because “it’s an order”, we are already well in tune with Gill’s analogy. Therefore, repeated sentences such as the aforementioned phrase become a little irritating and overused.
That’s not to say that Jake Ferretti, Stephen Bisland and Matthew Trevannion are grating as Grainer, Tanc and Wolstead. Bisland is collected and necessarily stern as Tanc, whose moral perspective has been rendered completely null as he follows through with a series of monotonous orders. His performance culminates in an unsettling erotic display that he handles deftly.
Meanwhile Ferretti and Trevannion maintain grounded performances, even as the play’s surrealism escalates. They do well to find the humour and nuances in Gill’s sparse dialogue and create a welcome relief through their playful bickering.
Ruth Hall’s skilful design has turned The Little Theatre at Southwark Playhouse into an encapsulating, clinical landscape. The low ceiling and dull metallic shades afford no mercy in revealing a sense of location to grasp on to. Coupled with Max Pappenheim’s searing sound design and Tom Wickens cyclical lighting, the aesthetic ensures that tension remains high both on stage and in the audience.
It is a shame, therefore, that Gill’s play offers so little in the way of provoking discussion. Yes, Gill clearly shows that people have blindly followed orders (and still do) even when what they’re doing may not seem logical. However, whilst Grainer questions this somewhat, the play is devoid of overarching comment or perspective on the subject. Torture just happens. People get away with unspeakable crimes. That’s it. Fiji Land doesn’t provoke any call to action. Rather, it will most likely leave you pretty unphased.
Fiji Land is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 8 February. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.