April 28, 2000: Greig, Victoria

Barbican Pit

A sprawling trilogy on the theme of how human beings betray their own best natures and spoil the natural world in the course of it. Set on a tiny, out-of-the-way island in the northwest of Scotland. David Greig tries to pull it together by having descendants of earlier characters emerge in sub­sequent plays. The time scheme covers three periods — 1936, 1974, and 1996. Industry and progress come to the island — a bridge over the causeway symbolizes the change (one thinks perhaps of the Isle of Skye and what the bridge that opened there a couple of years ago may have done to the character, and for the economy, of that wild, partly desolate place). The central irony seems to be that the advent of the modern world is at best a mixed blessing. Not an idea that seems strikingly new.

To his credit, Greig achieves a kind of epic sweep over the course of the evening (3 hours 15 minutes), and his characters are reasonably well different­iated. Greig’s technique, or strategy, is to conduct the action of the play by means of a series of very brief scenes, some of which last only a few minutes, and almost none more than ten minutes (the exceptions). These scenes are there to make a single point, and having made it they break off immediately — and so on to the next vignette. There is a certain relentless quality to this terse format, but the danger is in giving an impression of fragmentariness. I began to wish for longer scenes in which characters would become more fully rounded and complex, develop contradictory tendencies, or otherwise convince us that they were human. Instead, characters are uniformly subservient to other, supra-character­olog­ical values (hateful phrase, but that’s what I mean) dictated by the author’s purpose of showing us the headlong race of history toward high aspirations that prove to be tawdry or meretricious substitutes for genuine human and natural values. Finally, not my cup of tea.



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An American Playgoer in London by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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