I caught my first of the Ravenhills last night at the Royal Court.
I had actually intended to see some of the previous shows in the Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat cycle, specifically the Saturday morning performances at the National, but the, ahem, excesses of the evening before ended up proving incompatible with the early start time. Fortunately the Court's offering was being staged at a more agreeable 9.30pm.
Staged in the downstairs theatre, Birth of A Nation was a satirical piece about a group of artists gathered in an unnamed war-scarred city, there to rebuild and repair through the medium of their art workshops. It was staged very simply: no set, just four chairs placed on the bare stage, the actors addressing the audience directly as if we were citizens of said city.
This is a sharp and cynical playlet that neatly skewers the familiar, righteousness platitudes of the left when it comes to war – and particularly the war in Iraq. The artists are full of patronising admiration for the 'once-great culture' of this once-beautiful city and full of impotent derision for the government that went against their wishes. Yet their own agendas clearly take precedence and their contempt soon seeps through.
If it rather hammered its point home in its final minutes, it was still very funny stuff, elevated by an excellent cast. Pearce Quigley, in particular, has one of those voices that is just innately amusing.
The plays are scattered throughout the city, at various venues, and at various times of day, so you'd have to be pretty committed to the cause (like say, Maxie Szalwinska, who is blogging the plays for the Guardian) to catch them all, however it is only in doing so that all the recurring devices and themes become apparent. This one stood up on its own though, and I hope to see some of the others if I can. The treasure hunt quality of the exercise is certainly very appealing. One thing that struck me though, the audience at the play I saw was made up of a good number of journalists and theatre types, including Mr Ravenhill himself, I think I must have recognised a good third of the people in there, making me pause and wonder if this whole enterprise, while undoubtedly exciting, is something of a case of the theatre world feeding itself.