‘Discipline and Punish’, SUDS’ Edinburgh Fringe 2008 play, is in essence very minimalistic.
The ominous and oppressive staging consists only of one desk, two chairs and the all-important sign, which reads: ‘You must not talk. You must not leave. Deviants must be punished. Wait for the bells’.
Equally minimalistic is the cast, consisting of only five gradually emerging actors, and the dialogue, which is only heard when ‘the bells’ force the characters into action. This all stirs up a sense of foreboding and tension in the Debating Chamber, with the audience awaiting the brief yet frequent clues as to what’s actually happening.
So, what is the play’s plot? To be perfectly honest, there isn’t very much of a coherent story line evident here, which at best is a little distracting, and at worst fairly off-putting.
However, the minimal staging, cast and dialogue combine with impressively intense acting and clever writing to create maximum impact. At random intervals, the increasingly confused and disturbed characters are transported by ‘the bells’ into various scenes of discipline and punishment.
At one point, we witness two characters alternating between the roles of teacher/wayward pupil and policeman/nervous suspect, highlighting the stark similarities between the two situations. Equally as striking is the scene in which ‘non-violent’ methods of torture are demonstrated, which invokes a palpably uncomfortable atmosphere.
As ‘Discipline and Punish’ draws to a dramatic end in complete darkness, punctuated by the threat of approaching footsteps, the audience is left not quite sure of what they just saw. What is clear in everybody’s minds though, is that the methods of punishment we use today have a serious, permanent and disturbing impact, and that our world is not always straightforward and easy to understand.