Eschara by Phillip Whiteman

An evening of short plays is always something to get excited about. They can be racy, gripping and thought provoking all at once. Shoot/ Get Treasure/ Repeat and Eschara are a collection of six fifteen minute pieces written by two exciting British writers and supported by a four person cast well endowed with experience and talent. All the plays are connected to a central theme of terrorism and fear.

The converted railway arch is the perfect setting for such a challenging topic. The dank, dingy space is rife with a foreboding sense of dread, which is enough on its own to keep you firmly placed on the edge of your seat. The eerie music makes you tingle with unease before you’re abruptly jolted out of reality and into an interrogation with an armed British soldier.

This is Crime and Punishment; the loud, abrasive introduction to Shoot/ Get Treasure/ Repeat. It rips through the ominous atmosphere as the soldier aggressively questions an Iraqi widow before bizarrely announcing his love for her. He changes from a figure of power to a whimpering, lovesick boy, torturing her in a plea for affection.

It is a commanding performance but the shifts in power seem too much and too frequent for such a short play. And like the other two pieces from this first half production, the concepts are too abstract and far from reality. I struggled to believe the character’s plight at all, whether it was the abused terrorist in Paradise Lost or the angst-ridden couple of Fear and Misery. All three parts of the first half saga seem to lack a masterful writing skill that would be needed to pull off such bold conceptual themes.

The second half sees the start of Eschara;, three more short plays, all linked by a chess board and characters affected by the London terrorists bombings. Eschara immediately feels more compelling and in tune with current affairs than Shoot/ Get Treasure/ Repeat. The characters have all lost a loved one as a result of the attacks and each short piece gives an insightful view into a series of distraught mentalities. It’s incredibly entertaining, yet sensitive and heartfelt. The writer’s aim comes across clearly throughout; the dialogue is crammed with tension and wit, and the theme of devastation translates beautifully.

Each of the four actors is definitely more than adequate as they move in and out of their various characters with tremendous skill and ease. However, Phillip Whiteman should be given additional praise. The writer of Eschara delivers an irresistible performance in all four of the characters he plays. Whether he’s the dangerously psychotic White or the unlikely hero Kyle, Whiteman manages to bring out an element of compassion and realism, which is occasionally lacking elsewhere in the productions.

If I were being harsh I’d say that parts of the performance are a bit rough around the edges and the dialogue occasionally stilted. However, it’s hard to criticise something so innovative and daring. It’s great value for money and easily trumps some of the highly priced West End productions. All in all, the rustic gem that is the Union Theatre provides a deliciously dark, stimulating night that won’t be forgotten quickly.

Shoot/ Get Treasure/ Repeat -Written by Mark Ravenhill. Eschara -Written by Phillip Whiteman. Directed by Dan Ayling. Union Theatre, London 30th March – 24th April. For more information, see the Cheekish Productions website.