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Reviews London TheatreWest End & Central Published 30 May 2016

Review: The Forbidden Zone at Barbican

Barbican Theatre ⋄ 26th - 29th May 2016

it is a cry fully a century long colon a review by Maddy Costa comma at the Barbican stop

Maddy Costa
The Forbidden Zone at the Barbican. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey.

The Forbidden Zone at the Barbican. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey.

there’s another Katie Mitchell on in London stop bracket I guess that’s the end of the period of quote exile quote then bracket stop over two consecutive Fridays I watched Jenny Konig kill herself twice colon first as Ophelia in the technically astonishing but austere to the point of gruelling Ophelias Zimmer comma a long act of violence against its female protagonist comma who silently endures act after act of psychological violence comma internalising emotional bullying and replaying it as self-hatred bracket like Catherine Love comma whose review is extraordinarily astute comma I really struggled to see this production as a positive act of feminism bracket semi-colon and then as Claire Haber comma a scientist of the second world war and progeny of the trauma of the first comma in The Forbidden Zone stop stretched across the wide Barbican theatre stage comma The Forbidden Zone is technically astonishing too dash and initially irritating with it stop it’s one of Mitchell’s live-cinema productions comma with the action filmed and simultaneously transmitted on to a large screen above the set comma creating the effect of watching a BBC costume drama at the same time as seeing it being made stop the attention to detail of Lizzie Clachan’s sets is breathtaking comma but they’re pushed so far upstage that it’s barely visible bracket except on the screen of course bracket semi-colon a train carriage shuttles in the space between them and us comma and in the spaces around and between that a small army of black-clad camera people scuttle and pause comma undermining verisimilitude by opening the train doors at inopportune moments and stretching out tripod legs in the semi-darkness stop I know the whole point is constructive unease comma a questioning of theatrical realism comma but I found them disruptive dash until I paid attention to a slowly dawning realisation comma that there is a metaphorical function to the filming that says so much about how history is constructed comma and so much about how our world was constructed during and in the aftermath of the first world war comma that to stage The Forbidden Zone this way really is an act of genius stop paragraph break it’s common knowledge that all history is exactly that comma a story strung together to suit the agenda of the teller stop the visible agenda here is dash to quote from a poem by Mary Borden that forms the spine of Duncan Macmillan’s text dash to honour the quote unfriended dash unrecognised dash unrewarded and unknown quote people who fall victim to war in unobvious ways stop moving through those rooms at the back of the stage are Haber comma whose research into antidotes to toxic gases used in chemical warfare is terminated as funds are diverted to formulating new weaponry semi-colon her grandmother Clara Immerwahr comma whose husband Fritz Haber researched and released those same toxic gases against France during the first world war comma and who shot herself as an act of protest against this inhumanity semi-colon and archetypal unnamed soldiers comma mentally damaged by their experience of combat comma if they’re lucky enough to survive stop history repeats itself in the suicide of Haber comma just as history repeated itself in the second world war comma and continues to repeat itself in a resurgence of right-wing politics stop so there’s that stop but there’s also something more complicated going on comma an agenda beneath the one on the surface comma and it requires actually seeing those black-clad camera people colon not tuning them out but understanding them as a representation of the barely visible people whose actions constructed the key narratives of our world now stop they made me think in particular about Colonel Mark Sykes, diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and all the unrecognised/unknown people who spent the first world war negotiating the break-up of the Ottoman Empire comma who laid the path for today’s wars in their arbitrary mapping of the modern Middle East stop the desperation of Clara and Claire carries within it the desperation of women across that region now comma existing within a war zone that renders protest futile and from which there seems no escape stop and that comma ultimately comma is the agenda of this production colon it is a cry fully a century long comma articulated with absolute precision comma whether in the words of women writers bracket Simone de Beauvoir comma Virginia Woolf comma Hannah Arendt bracket woven together by Macmillan or in the crumpled face of Mitchell’s regular collaborator Kate Duchene comma as the nurse who discovers Haber at the point of death and clutches her to her chest comma that it’s time for war to stop stop stop stop STOP

The Forbidden Zone is on until 29th May 2016. Click here for more information.

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Maddy Costa

Maddy Costa writes about theatre and music, as much as possible at the same time. Preferably with a recipe included. An occasional contributor to the Guardian, she found one blog (Deliq) wasn't enough, so now co-hosts four. She is critical writer, or critic in residence, or embedded critic, with Chris Goode & Company; through her work with them, and with Dialogue, the organisation she co-founded with Jake Orr, she is attempting to rethink the relationship between people who make, watch and write about theatre. At least once a week she decides she should stop writing about theatre and do something more useful instead.

Review: The Forbidden Zone at Barbican Show Info


Produced by Schaubuhne Berlin

Directed by Katie Mitchell

Written by Duncan Macmillan using texts by Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Borden, Emma Goldman and Virginia Woolf

Cast includes Ruth Marie Kroger, Felix Romer, Jenny Konig, Andreas Schroders, Kate Duchene, Giorgio Spiegelfeld, Sebastian Pircher

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