21 April 2013

Nineveh at Riverside Studios (intense)

Firstly some thanks to the Riverside Studios for holding Sunday matinee performances. Working away for a lot of the time means that I usually go to the theatre just at the weekend and it frustrates me that there is so little on offer on Sundays.

Looking to fill a Sunday afternoon I checked the Riverside website first, the weather was not good enough to go to Kew Gardens, and Nineveh looked interesting, so I went.

The interest came from the subject matter, it was based on stories of child soldiers dragged in to brutal conflicts around the world.

The Riverside is a welcoming place, even on a relatively quiet Sunday afternoon, and I was able to recover from the ordeals of the bus journey with a nice coffee and some cake.

The Riverside also does a good job of promoting its shows and there was a display about Nineveh in the reception area.

The set for Nineveh was dark and bare; too dark for any of my pre-performance photos to show anything. There were a few piece of wood shaped a little like a boat with some vertical spars that suggested that we were below decks.

In this dark space were three ex-militia from different regions, somehow brought together.

Exactly where they were was one of the themes of the play and was never fully resolved. For most of the show they believed that they were trapped inside a whale though the ending suggested that it might have been limbo.

The relationships between the men were unfriendly though accepting that they had a shared problem. This was not unlike how prison relationships are usually portrayed, i.e. limited trust and changing allegiances.

They talk about their situation and their pasts, neither of which were pleasant or had much hope. It was grim but there was some warmth in their banter too even though it was often spiked with insults. The uncertain relationships between the three men was another of the play's themes and it was the background against which the stories were told.

At one point the three men discover a boy and his story and perspectives started to change the drama's direction. Previously the men had no direction, or any idea where they were, and the boy's ideas gave them something to hang on to and he led them to the story's end.

His tale was also the most harrowing. He had been captured by an African warlord and had been ordered to kill his own parents. His mother pleaded with him to do as he was ordered in order to protect his life at the expense of hers. The stories in Nineveh were based on true stories and this made it even harder to listen to.

Even with the benefit of a week to let the experience of Nineveh sink in I am finding it hard to understand exactly what it was. There were strong elements of religion, comradeship, literacy and violence, all mixed and none dominant. I would not claim that it was as good as Waiting for Godot but it shared the description of nothing happens in an absorbing way.

Whatever it was, or was meant to be, I thoroughly enjoyed it, though "enjoyed" always seems the wrong word for a play about such a bleak subject. It was an intense drama well acted and simply presented. I would see it again and I would recommend others to see it too.

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