The beginning of
To call this theatre seems less precise than to call it a brilliant simulation.
Last Resort is a brave foray into political theatre that involves the audience in a reflection on what shocks us and what we allow nevertheless to happen.
The irony of the show is immediate and apparent in many of the decisions the director makes, including the title. The premise is that this is the alternative future of Guantanamo Bay, one in which it’s a pleasant beach resort with two enthusiastic guides (played by the show’s creators, Tom Barnes and Eve Parmiter). The audience members are the guests at the resort, welcomed in with cocktails and settled in to deckchairs with personal baskets of sand. All the while the show hints at the awful reality of Guantanamo Bay, a US military prison that has become synonymous with the acts of torture and injustice the US commits in its so-called War on Terror. The resort side is not complete fiction however: it is modelled after the real holiday resort on Guantanamo Bay, which hosts families of American military personnel.
Audience participation is central to the show, and the guides alternate between allowing the audience glimpses of the terror of a prisoner at real Guantanamo Bay, and making the audience feel comfortable and relaxed, and thus complicit in what is going on. It’s a tough balance: creating simultaneously a sense of empathy and an unbridgeable distance, in part made up of our own ignorance and privilege.
The balance is struck through the incongruity of the form and content of the show: the form matches that of a holiday resort, with meditation exercises and guessing games, while the content is darker, realer: meditating about the panic of being waterboarded, guessing horrifying statistics about the real Guantanamo Bay. All in the upbeat voice and menacingly smiling faces of the presenters.
To call this theatre seems less precise than to call it a brilliant simulation. The aim of the show is patently to turn its viewers against Guantanamo Bay, and the clear political aim and lack of ambiguity here can seem heavy-handed, especially combined with the over-the-top acting of the actors. A scene in which Tom, the new guide, is told to stop reading 1984 and even Cinderella because all these ‘controversial’ books are banned, seems a too cliche condemnation of censorship.
However what I think redeems the piece from these criticisms is the well-used irony throughout it, causing contrasts in the audience’s own role that are quite thought-provoking. Closer to the end, the line between simulation and reality is blurred as the audience is interrogated and must watch the real-life consequences of their interrogation. The painful reality then brought to the stage was shocking and pertinent, pushing one’s understanding of theatre as pure make-believe. And the ending, where the overlap between a resort and a military prison is brought full circle with the symbol of American capitalism, a Big Mac, is representative of the dark little laugh I found myself making throughout the show.