Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review: 'Horizontal Collaboration' at the Dukes

Horizontal Collaboration
written and produced by
David Leddy
Presented by
Live at Lica: In the City on
Friday 24 October 2014 at
The Dukes
Reviewed by Lesley O'Hare

The Dukes’ Round theatre was the perfect setting for this intimate and intense piece.  A piece about power.  A piece about womanhood.  A piece about good, bad, and the muddy waters in between.

There was a strange level of tension in the room as we waited for the play to begin.  The stage was simply set; with four laptops, four glasses of water, and eight lamps adorning a long table.  Nervous energy radiated from the LICA Creative Director, Leo Burton, as he waited to introduce the performance.  This rippled through the audience, creating a feeling of receptive alertness.

Horizontal Collaboration is a unique performance every time it is shown.  It comprises four actors, and with each play four new actors are used who know nothing of the script.  The actors play four judges at a war crimes tribunal in The Hague, reading the testimony and transcripts of the witnesses to the murder of a Nigerian warlord.

The actors’ unfamiliarity with the script becomes part of the play itself, as the judges explain themselves to be stand-ins at the trial with no familiarity of the transcripts.  This helps to create intensity to the performance, as the actors are as human and as sometimes as nervous as the people behind the testimonies they read.  Occasional understandable errors in reading did not detract from the performance, but instead gave a sense of reality to the witness statements.

The four actors; Ali Matthews, Aliki Chapel, Helen Longworth, and The Dukes’ own Mia Wilson were all perfectly composed throughout and each gave their reading a sense of depth and warmth.  I also think that each actor suited the script to which they were assigned.  Judith’s testimony was read with emotion and character, while the psychologist’s transcripts were conveyed with a sense of impartial curiosity.

With the murder of the warlord, his widow, Judith K, makes a choice at odds with the traditions of her upbringing.  But this, we learn, is not the first time.  An educated and ambitious woman who conducts chemical research in London somehow was the wife of a Nigerian overlord, pressured into the marriage by her more traditional mother.  Following her husband’s death, Judith makes the choice to try and lead the people to a better, more peaceful life, rather than remarry.  As a supposedly Westernised woman who is the only member of her family never to have killed someone, is it possible for her to walk such a path?

As each transcript reveals more about Judith, her husband, their family and servants; more layers to the story slowly unpeel to an unexpected conclusion that left me unsure as to whether I should celebrate or commiserate, and with whom.

That is what makes it such a satisfactory play.  The testimonies build tension and pace even though the actors’ performances do not change.  The power is in the words themselves.  I found my ears straining although I could hear clearly, and my brain rapidly ticking trying to understand the choices of Judith and her family, and trying to work out a neat line between good and evil.

That is the ultimate strength of this play.  As Judith states, we should consider not just “why good people do bad things”, but, “why bad people do good things”.  I would certainly watch this play again to see how new performers change the dynamic, and I would recommend it to anyone who sees theatre as a means of exploring the moral maze.

Lesley O'Hare
25 October 2014

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