The challenge for any writer tackling the well-worn topic of WWII is to find a particular niche or angle which has not previously been given adequate treatment. Jill Haas, in her exploration of the experiences of conscientious objectors and enemy civilians, has certainly hit upon such a point of departure.
Rich in characterful storytelling, and compelling enough to make us examine our own prior conceptions, Troublesome People comes highly recommended
In this production, there are unanswered questions which are not given satisfying clarity. We remain bewildered as to the reasoning for the unrelenting hostility of Doreen, the redoubtable landlady who is imposed upon by having to take in a Pacifist couple and two German internees. We are also left feeling as though several of the interwoven plot points are a little under-developed. However, it must be understood that Haas’ play has been greatly abridged due to Festival requirements. This understood, the many positives of the production may be contextualised.
The play is described as ‘character-driven’, and the embodiment of those characters by the entire company is unfailingly absorbing. The only slightly uncertain performance moments are where emotional outbursts seem in contradiction to what has come before – though this is almost certainly down to the required editing.
From the outset, the case for the defence of Pacifism is clearly made by the character of Sam Bankes, and his plainly articulated, well-reasoned argument establishes our framework for interpreting other characters’ reactions towards him and his wife and indeed for his gradually developing frustrations. Indeed, each character is well-developed and each contributes a unique outlook regarding their situation which contributes to the various tensions and misunderstandings that are readily believable as being genuine. Because of this, we are able to identify with their respective arguments and viewpoints in light of what we know of their subtly revealed backgrounds.
Set against a household which strives to keep itself running as normal, certain lines of dialogue stand out as particularly pertinent. We are left to consider for ourselves why it is that we ‘periodically’ slaughter one another and why wartime Pacifists were widely regarded as ‘traitors’. We struggle with questions regarding both the divisive and unifying power of religion. The scope of this play is laudable in its magnitude.
Phil Reeves’ portrayal of the young Leo is wholly warming and creates a great deal of sympathy for the often unconsidered displaced Germans who came to our shores. Mention should also go to Glen Kinch and Alison Harris for capturing the emotional heart of the piece, while Shelley Draper’s fearsome Doreen boldly maintains a high-level of drama throughout. Rich in characterful storytelling, and compelling enough to make us examine our own prior conceptions, Troublesome People comes highly recommended. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the full-length version in the future!