Monday, September 08, 2008

"Class Enemy" - September 2008

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the theatre after the madness that is August with the Edinburgh International Festival and The Fringe, the EIF decides to bring the festival to you through its 'Sharing The Festival' initiative. "Class Enemy" the Nigel Williams' play adapted by Haris Pašović to a Sarajevo setting and performed in Bosnian by the East West Theatre Company ventured out to suburbia by doing one night at each of the Macrobert Arts Centre, Rutherglen Town Hall and Cumbernauld Theatre. Since I was at a loose end while Statler went off to see "An Audience With... Tommy Docherty", I thought I'd take the opportunity to catch this at Cumbernauld Theatre.

Whilst aware "Class Enemy" had received some good reviews whilst at the EIF proper, I have to admit was motivated to attend by curiousity more than anything. Firstly the technical challenge of presenting a play in a foreign language with supertitles. Secondly and possibly most importantly - how would a play that the box office warns you has "strong language, and emm some scenes of sexual violence...oh and it's in Bosnian with English subtitles" be received by an audience at Cumbernauld Theatre. There was also an element of supporting something that that I felt was important - Cumbernauld may only be 40 minutes from Edinburgh, but bringing plays out of the EIF to a wider audience is something that should be applauded. Even if I was unsure of the play itself. So I took my seat with a certain amount of trepidation.

Probably the best way to sum up "Class Enemy" is as The Breakfast Club on crack cocaine. A group of teenagers with no respect for the system or each other; and a system that has its hands too full with others to even try with them any more. Throw in some religious/ethnic prejudices from a society rebuilding itself from a disasterous civil war and you end up with a group of individuals whose problems are magnified and distorted until they're almost caricatures.

At times I was glad of the subtitles (and slightly nervous of my seat at the front) as desks and chairs are noisily tossed across the stage. The use of swearing and crude language and gestures hammered at you and left you shifting uncomfortably in your seat. Sometimes they act as a pack, whilst at others they turn on each other and you're never allowed to become comfortable as good natured 'banter' can quickly shift to bullying and violence. Relationships shift and change quickly and you realise how little they know about each other beyond the superficial.

I realise this sensory overload is part of the aim of the production, but for me it was also part of it's weakness. By taking things so far beyond where I was comfortable I started to withdraw from individuals that my liberal sensibilities said I should be be sympathetic to. But maybe that's exactly what was intended too. The strongest moments are whent he barriers come down and you get little insights into what makes them who they are.

I'm reluctant to single out individual performances as this is very much an ensemble piece, with strong acting from all. And even 5 days on I'm still not sure I enjoyed it, but it was certainly memorable.

Photo used with permission.

1 Heckle

Steve McMahon said...

I agree with your feelings about the show. It was an onslaught and lacked any subtlety but I was won over in the end by its sheer energy. Still not sure I liked it though.