18 September 2011

The Conspirators at the Orange Tree


The new season at the Orange Tree starts in familiar territory with a play by Vaclav Havel.

Somehow it is three years since the Orange Tree had a Havel season.

Then they introduced his latest play, Leaving, to us with its humour and ridicule and combined that with two double-bills steeped in dissent and rebellion.

This time the Orange Tree has dug up another unknown play for us.

The Conspirators dates from 1971 but this is the first time that an English Language version has been performed.

Despite being written not long after the arrival of the Russians in 1968 the play is set in an entirely different context and one that has contemporary echoes.

A colonial power, unnamed but with hints of Africa, was overthrown and replaced by a dictator who has, in turn, been replaced in a revolution.

In the early days after the revolution it is not clear whether the new government will be any better than the old and there are already demonstrations and political prisoners.

The conspirators are five powerful figures representing the police, army, law, intelligence services and the rich.

Their stated aim is to protect the recently won democracy but their main motivation is self interest.

Libya is the modern reference point for this drama while we wait to see what emerges from the wreckage of the civil war that has deposed Colonel Gaddafi.

The play is not very hopeful in this regard as we get to learn more about the conspirators.

Going clockwise around the table from 9pm; the police commander is cruel and delights in torturing his prisoners, the chief prosecutor cannot cope with his domineering wife, the security chief is dimwitted and the army major is vain.

The only one with any intelligence is Helga, the rich socialite. She uses her sexuality to manipulate the men around her, all of whom have, or have had, a relationship with her.

As such, hers is the pivotal role in the play and Lucy Tregear rises to the challenge with consummate ease.

The conspiracy evolves as we hear more about the deposed dictator and see more of the people's reaction to revolution as revealed to us through the actions of the large supporting cast.

The political scheming and current resonances carry the story forward but the heart of the play is the conspirators, not the conspiracy. And there is a lot in those characters for the strong cast to play with and for us to enjoy.

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