Cockpit: a strong ensemble and lively retelling of post-war play
- Gareth K Vile
- 11 October 2017
Throwing light on contemporary Europe with a look at the past
The ambitious resurrection of Bridget Boland's 1948 script about the problem of displaced persons in the aftermath of World War Two fits elegantly with the vision of David Greig, the Lyceum's artistic director. As part of a season that is both politically engaged and aware of theatrical history, Cockpit uses the Lyceum's entire auditorium as a holding camp for displaced Europeans after the defeat of the Nazis.
The strong cast do their best with a series of simple characters: communists and collaborators, a Polish couple, a Jewish mother and child, the two British soldiers placed in charge of the relocations. And Wils Wilson takes advantage of the entire space, with actors clambering into boxes and down from the circle, even hiding among the audience themselves relocated onto a seating bank on the stage. Aly Macrae's musical direction adds poignant, keening songs, although the brief physical theatre interlude is a sharp and unnecessary shift into a more abstracted description of the crisis than Boland's dense script.
While the production offers a lively picture of the chaotic consequences of conflict on a human scale, the script limits its success. The Europeans are reduced to caricatures–only a potential outbreak of plague halts their sectarian bickering–and the British practicality of Peter Hannah's Captain Ridley is thwarted by those pesky foreigners' insistence on self-determination. Even his serious speech which rejects 'belief' for 'theory' fails to convince, since the communist partisans could easily answer that his theory of democracy is mere optimistic belief against their Marxist theory.
Nevertheless, the ensemble's energy, Hannah's bewildered Captain and Deka Walmsley's stoical sergeant and Wilson's imaginative direction combine for a vibrant production that presents Boland's vision clearly. It's a historical curiosity, firmly embedded in a 1940s post-war mixture of optimism about the power of art to heal – an operatic aria manages the calm the raging hearts of the dispossessed, if briefly – and pessimism about the noxious power of ideology. But it is this limitation that allows it to open questions about how Europe has sought to redefine itself over the last fifty years.
Lyceum, Edinburgh, 6–28 Oct