Review - Decade - Headlong and National Theatre at Commodity Quay

Associate Director Robert Icke stated in this afternoon's talkback that Headlong wanted to create theatre that made the audience uncomfortable, that made them think. In that, they most certainly succeeded. With their space in Commodity Quay, a former trading floor turned into a purpose built performance space, created to feel like a restaurant "On The Top Of The World" and innovative staging that used the full room, from first entry to the space the audience was unsure what to expect next. The play, a composite of multiple scripts commissioned by Headlong Theatre, had a variety of perspectives and rather coming from a position with a clear indication of how we should feel about 9/11, its only real message was inquiry. The spirit of exploration was most present, as the various characters moved through scenes exploring their various interactions with 9/11 both as the event was occurring, and in the decade since.

Most interesting to me was the merger of music, dance, and theatre to create this piece. Each aspect contributed to the next, balancing a challenging, political monologue or scene with a softer, more intrinsic scene with physical reactions to the subject. Importantly, though, even the intellectual "Break" offered by the dance segments was political, bringing the people together, and pulling from modern dance, classical forms, and folk traditions. The cast moved seamlessly from one to the next, jumping into various characters effortlessly. Notably the cadence and accents of many New Yorkers were presented clearly, bringing the production a feel of authenticity that served an important role.

Also contributing to the overall aesthetic was the impeccable sound and light design, which could transport the audience from a bustling cafe, to a busy train, to a classroom, and many other locales with a flash. The sound design on more than one occasion had me questioning whether the sounds I heard were actually bleeding in from outdoors....a brilliant use of stereo sound in theatre to unnerve the audience.

These technical aspects played well together, allowing the idea of the play to ring through. I can't help but think that without the seamless production, the play's message would not have had the same force. One character stated that the best retaliation to an act of terror is an idea; and you can't bomb an idea or destroy an idea. This production did a brilliant job of helping that idea come to life, resonating within each of us.

This is the kind of theatre I feel strongly that we need to make more of. Inquiry into our interactions with current political events, including horrific and shocking events such as terrorist attacks, is what I consider to be one of the most important functions of the artist in society. We cannot sit quietly while things occur around us; it is the responsibility of the artist to delve into this difficult subject matter, and make it ok for people to talk about it. Only through discussion can we come to those ideas which will stand the test of time. And that theatre will, too.