Naomi Liddle introduces our next show Landscape With Weapon, which plays in the Upper Hall 27 September – 1 October.
I’ve always admired Joe Penhall’s skill in putting across complex political and intellectual issues while creating stories with real warmth and realism. I saw this play when it was first staged in 2007, and while it is not one of his better known plays, the combination of moral dilemma, chilling government manipulation and some genuinely warm and funny brotherly banter stuck with me as something I wanted to direct one day.
Tell us about the characters.
Ned (Tom Mathias), is an engineer who gets himself in over his head with his latest invention. He goes from thinking he has created something that will save lives to dealing with the terrible knowledge of what he might have unleashed. His brother, Dan (Jerome Kennedy), is our sort of ‘everyman’ character, a foil to Ned’s enthusiasm who asks the difficult questions Ned doesn’t want to answer, while at the same time dealing with his own, less high profile struggles. Experienced SLT-er Helen Chadney plays Ross, the Director of Sales struggling to convince Ned to sign her all-important contract, while Matthew Moore is chilling as her shady superior Brooks, brought in to use slightly less HR-friendly tactics to get the deal done.
The play deals with controversial serious issues – a bit of a change from your last few choices both as a director and a performer?
Ha, yes! My last few shows as a director – Government Inspector, Flint Street Nativity and The Hypochondriac – have been big, brash explosions of silliness but actually Landscape is bringing me back to my roots and it makes a nice change to get back to something a bit darker.
This play not only has some cracking text to get my brain around, but also some really fascinating characters who prevent it sliding into polemic. I’ve clearly got a thing about warring families, too – both Lonesome West and Skull in Connemara featured some seriously dysfunctional relatives!
What are the challenges in putting on this play?
On paper, there are some big technical challenges, including moving the action from a London flat to a factory floor and back again. I decided early on to pare everything down and let the script speak for itself; we’ve kept everything minimal, so minimal that this itself becomes a challenge with nowhere to hide when you just have three actors and a chair on stage! It’s all about the quality of the dialogue and the acting, which is a fascinating experience in itself. Of course it wouldn’t be one of my shows without a fight and a bit of mess for the stage management to clear up, but I’ll leave that as a surprise!
While this play is nearly 10 years old, sadly the issues within it regarding endless fighting in the Middle East and the morality around the business of war remain current. Even while rehearsing the cast and I have found ourselves ‘flip flopping’ in our allegiances as all parties make really good points, so I’m looking forward to the post-show discussions. At the same time, I think this is a genuinely funny and moving play so we hope our audiences will be entertained as well as educated – I certainly have been while directing it.
Landscape With Weapon plays in the Upper Hall Tuesday, September 27 – Saturday, October 1 at 8pm. Tickets are available here.