Kieran Hurley’s new play is about violence and injury in its many forms, from that which devastates generations in the total annihilation of warfare to the tiny acts of cruelty we commit injudiciously every day. Morvern fumes at her desk, trying to block out the micro-aggressions of her co-worker with heavy metal, Danny fights against the injustice of the world from his keyboard and Joe, a drone pilot, tries to justify death by joystick as ethical warfare despite ‘collateral damage’ Isma playing on his mind. The exhortation ‘An injury to one is the concern of all’ – a manifesto loosely based on that on 19th Century American union ‘The Knights of Labour’ – rings throughout, screaming at us to recognise our detachment and spur us into action.
Oh, but it does scream.
There is little that is subtle in director Alex Swift’s production. The four central characters are played interchangeably by the cast with scripts pasted into aesthetically serious hardbacks, addressing the audience directly. They hold us to account with lists of the wronged dead, with Morvern’s data entry task listing those due to be deported. Designer Oliver Townsend’s ominously dark, damaged shape looms over us like a black cloud or a brain that has been subject to something very nasty with a broken pipe.
The message is clear, but whether the audience can hear it better by being shouted at for over an hour is questionable. Swift’s production is a curious mix of directness and overly complex metaphors, chairs are subject to convoluted choreography (at one point one was moved three times, by three actors, a distance of about four feet). Although the performers have scripts in hand, there is a good deal more stumbling and talking over each other than you would expect from having the material directly available.
It is unclear how self-aware An Injury is of its own act of emotional manipulation. When Morvern (at that point embodied by a fantastic, fire-eyed, Yusra Warsama) observes that the audience were in fact rooting for her during a fantasy sequence to kill Joe and Danny, it is a moment of reflexive intensity that shows we too are complicit in the violence. It is much more effective than the dead-child-of-guilt (see also last years ‘Drones, Baby, Drones’ ) represented by Isma who has no backstory even in death, her entire existence only used to haunt Joe’s conscience. The dead are always with us, watching, claim the cast. Personally, I think this is a bit of a cop out, the greater crime is the fact the dead are dead. Or if there is an afterlife for the victims of our casual carnage then I hope Isma is with her family or plotting some nasty poltergeist activity against Joe rather than showing him the wonder of nature through resilient, heavy lifting ants.
An Injury demonstrates how our ease with daily nastiness is a wider symptom of our willingness to extreme violence at the touch of a button. It has a solid narrative that would work well performed as a straight play. I would have liked to have seen one actor committed to each part, not least because I wanted to see what the enthralling, underused Khalid Abdalla would have done with Danny if he owned him completely. Simultaneously, An Injury would be utterly vindicated as an angry, loud vociferation into the dark. Hurley has written a furious shout of pain, but it is difficult to hear it through all the unnecessary noise.
For more information on An Injury, click here.