Luke Oldfield’s Accidental Birth of an Anarchist at The Space on the Isle of Dogs tells of two novice activists from The People’s Movement to Protect the Planet who get jobs on a North Sea oil rig with the sole intention of staging a sit-in protest.
Even that famous willing suspension of disbelief doesn’t carry the day for this play.
Alice (Aurea Williamson) and Lia (Pip O’Neill), working from within, rather easily discover the code that will open the door to what is presumably the operational centre of the facility that contains vital instrumentation for it to function and be safe. Believing they have a window of opportunity in the security rotas to enter the room and glue themselves in, they nevertheless come unstuck when the Captain (Michael Jayes) makes an unscheduled visit. Alice knocks him out, despite their commitment to non violence. He quickly comes round and after some chat they raise him from the floor and tie him up in a chair. Loosely secured, they are able to explain their intentions, albeit rather vaguely.
What follows is a series of conversations about companies putting profits over lives, the state of the planet, the rights of protesters, the nature of activism as opposed to terrorism and just how many years the women might spend in prison once all this is over. Veganism, pizzas and Tupperware also manage to enter the fray. Released from his bondage, shades of Stockholm Syndrome seem to beset the Captain and ultimately there is a reconciliation as the rig, in the midst of adverse weather and a possible military intervention, faces a massive technical glitch that could destroy it. The explosive noises and the theatre filling with smoke suggest at least one of those things happened to end the tale.
Director Neil Sheppeck, assisted by Francesca Boccanera, has chosen a rectangular thrust stage on which to set the play, perhaps to suggest the confines of the control room, but it brings with it the associated issues of blocking. In some cases this might not be an issue, but given the often poor enunciation and low-level delivery of the cast it doesn’t always work well. While the play tries to link into current environmental concerns, the activism of the two women seems to have come from some dizzy, ill-conceived, drawing-room conversation or text-book guide to protesting. It lacks the passion and depth of people truly committed to the environmental cause. Hence, there is a huge credibility issue surrounding them and why the Captain, who in Jayes’ lacklustre portrayal seems to volunteer himself as a hostage, doesn’t just walk out of the situation and have them arrested.
In a play that has adapted the title of Dario Fo’s famous work, some elements of his style might have been expected. Instead, we have a far-fetched incident of two would-be, yet very unlikely, anarchists, without any elements of bawdy slapstick or the use of alienation effect, both of which might have given much-needed extra dimensions to this unconvincing plot and pedestrian production. Even that famous willing suspension of disbelief doesn’t carry the day for this play.