9/11, as it now succinctly known, is one of those ‘where were you on the day?’ events. Members of the teenage Hoghead Theatre Company were around, but only just. For them it is a piece of history, but one in which they have immersed themselves for this production of
A powerfully refreshing, uncompromisingly challenging piece of theatre.
The play has an interesting provenance. In an interview with the Guardian’s Andrew Dickson the company’s director, Rupert Goold, described how the work was created by a team of writers from the UK and USA. They worked independently with the instruction to chose something within the ten years from 2001 as their scene’s focus, be it a memory, a recollection or something more abstract. He explained, "Individually, the writers felt the material was too big for them to take on. It's like trying to write about the Holocaust. They were interested in giving voice to it, but were much more comfortable writing five or 10 minutes than two hours." Of the outcomes he says, "Some are very naturalistic and observed, some are very influenced by Caryl Churchill, Martin Crimp, Pinter.”
The play has been reformulated many times and this production, specifically compiled for the Festival Fringe, is a compact forty minutes. Other companies could take note here of how powerfully a message can be delivered in a short space of time if you have the right script. Much of the message may come as a surprise and shock. Some scenes are a serious counter to the more common outpourings of grief, sadness and sympathy. However, they possess integrity and conviction and are sharply focussed on the event’s impact on the individual unhindered by political correctness.
How do you feel trying to celebrate your 21st birthday if you just happened to have been born on September 11th? What if you were the naval seal sent to take out Osama bin Laden? How do you fulfil your role as a journalist? Can you really get hooked on watching video footage of the day’s events? These and other related takes slowly build a cumulative image of the lasting impacts of that dreadful day.
Monologues cover much of the material, but other styles feature with an interview of truncated, emotionally suggestive lines and others of overlapping, interjecting dialogue. These all exhibit the cast’s impressive command of US accents, many of whom are easily mistaken for native speakers. Their ability as company comes to the fore in the bus scene. With choral emphasis, it is charged with the uncomfortable fear everyone has probably experienced of looking at a person or an object and wondering whether they are seeing an explosive device or the next suicide bomber.
The episode is indicative of the ensemble’s ability to enter into people’s minds and portray their fears, frustrations and obsessions. The scenes are individually fascinating and the performances measured. The ending, however, is abrupt and unclear, detracting in some way from the neatness of what has gone before. Without preaching, a clearer finale would round it off. That said, Decade is a powerfully refreshing, uncompromisingly challenging piece of theatre.