There are ideas of real weight and consequence deep in the foundations of Mark Ravenhill’s play for an abridged Secret Theatre Company, but he wants his audience to do far too much of the heavy lifting. Ravenhill has something to say, something desperately worth saying, but rather than articulating it he fires out a barrage of tired and tiring genre clichés.
Show 6 takes place in a post-revolution society, but the trick is that in this coup it seems that the rich and the right-wing overthrew the poor and the lefties, condemning the latter to sprawling favelas and the former to asylums and the lobotomy knife. The victors now live in gated communities of absolute nihilist affluence, lounging by the pool and blocking out the horrors of past and present with ubiquitous drug addictions. They spend their days and nights ‘monged’, and when the play begins one of them has run down a ‘chav’, their name for the favela-dwellers, in his car.
This near-murder causes a crisis of identity in the increasingly frazzled perpetrator, as the world of misery he has brushed his bonnet against begins to pollute his perfect life, opening up a breech in the bubble of affluence he and his kind have created for themselves. When memories of the ‘coup’ come rushing through the crack, he forms a band of the suddenly aware to piece together recollections of the past and resist the forces which have divided the world.
Ravenhill has stated that his inspiration came from the stories of children adopted by the oppressors of General Pinochet’s regime, but his text speaks most intriguingly about more recent issues. The emphasis on stories of the past and fictions of the present, and their power in forming the world we live in hints at the information domination of Rupert Murdoch, its references to ‘chavs’ suggests a bleak endgame for our Benefits Street culture of scapegoating and segregation. Something of the last days of Rome or Passolini’s Salo can even be detected in the slide into incest of a society which has embraced the high-end of the leisure industry as its guiding principle.
Which makes it all the more frustrating that the action of the play itself does these ripe thoughts such shabby justice. The three members of the Secret Theatre ensemble plough gamely through cut-out confrontations and inert epiphanies. The best moments are nagged by their similarity to recent, more successful explorations of storytelling and memory such as Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns and Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Idomeneus. If the action is intended as a thriller, there are no thrills to speak of.
The theme of repressed or forgotten memories is carried through into the dialogue, which omits words, seemingly at random, leaving sentences fragmented. Rather than heightening the language, it weakens and flattens it. It’s as if a recording of the play has been bounced off the pitted surface of an asteroid, and the text rehearsed from a crater-strewn playback.
Director Caroline Steinbeis keeps things simple, and in doing so neglects to drop a shaft down into the play’s more compelling depths. Show 6 is a definitive missed opportunity, a play of considerable profundity masquerading as yet another snoozy ‘what-if?’ schlocker.