Sussex students reinvigorate dystopic classic
With the words ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘disaffected’ in the synopsis, I arrived for the performance of Have I None expecting yet another Danny-Boyle-pre-’Slumdog’-esque doomy social commentary offering no glimpse of human salvation. When I entered the intimate venue to find Sussex graduate Laura Corbett already seated onstage amidst the sound of gunfire, I thought my suspicions had been confirmed.
But what ensued, happily, combined humour, poignancy and welcome moments of warmth in a performance that took a refreshingly unexpected slant on that much-abused genre of dystopic fiction.
The characters interact in a single scene: a sparse room which we learn is the living area of Sarah (Corbett) and her partner, played by Max O’Donoghue. Their frugal existence, we discover, owes to a national backlash against mass-consumerism which has resulted in a ban on luxury items and emotional displays.
Recalling the past, O’Donoghue remembers how it became ‘a hobby’ for people to buy expensive cars simply to crash them into walls. He goes on to explain how people once had everything they wanted, and it was only logical that they would go on to beg for it to be taken away. It’s a jarring vision given the current financial crisis, and though the play was conceived less than a decade ago by playwright Edward Bond, O’Donoghue’s wistfulness seems all the more real when our own near future is inevitably considered.
Fortunately the captivating performance quickly curtailed excessive navel-gazing, sustaining a light-hearted atmosphere in the audience throughout. In fact, the audience seemed determined to laugh even at the script’s blackest and most ambiguous points. Unequivocal comedy was delivered regularly and naturally, however, by the three actors (completed by current Sussex student Chris Harrison, who plays Sarah’s brother) whose seamless slapstick sequences couldn’t fail to raise a smile.
What struck me particularly was the seemingly confused intention of the play: after an extended, tense opening where Sarah sits in apparent fear while an unseen visitor knocks with growing violence on the door, the gags seem incongruous. But this is in no way a criticism of the performance – I was unsettled by these flighty shifts from grim to funny and I suspect that was the point.
A highlight of the play was reached when Sarah shares a moment of intimacy with her brother. Director Aine King translates Bond’s emotionless dystopia by banning eye contact between characters, so the juxtaposition achieved here between Corbett and Harrison’s authentic interaction and the rest of the play is especially touching.
While O’Donoghue is never afforded a situation in which to showcase any sense of sentimentality, all three actors demonstrated an impressive plasticity of talent, swooping effortlessly between extremes of emotion with a confidence that will secure them each a bright future.
At only forty-five minutes the play was accessible and direct. In spite of the tragic ending, I left the Three and Ten optimistic and entertained, thanks to a combination of the inspiring, enthusiastic cast, and the prevalence of warmth and humour that emanated from the bleak setting of the play into the theatre itself.