Monday, 30 July 2012

Theatre review: An Incident at the Border

The basic premise of An Incident at the Border is so simple it feels as if it should be the basis for a well-known absurdist classic, but Kieran Lynn's one-act play is actually getting its world premiere in the Finborough's Sunday-Monday slot. A young couple, Arthur and Olivia (Tom Bennett and Florence Hall) are enjoying a lazy day feeding the ducks in the park, when a Border Guard (Marc Pickering) arrives with a roll of tape. Their country has just been divided in two, and the new border runs right through the park bench they're sitting on. Unfortunately this means Arthur has not only ended up in a different country to his girlfriend, he's technically in a hostile foreign country, without any identification papers, and it could take years before there's even a procedure in place for him to legally cross the line back home.

Lynn's play keeps coming back to the issue of people not caring about major events that don't directly involve them, but it also of course takes in a lot of the inherent absurdity in the serious, sometimes deadly business of politics and ever-shifting borders.

In a cross between Ionesco and Kafka, filtered through a large dose of silly comedy, an endless bureaucracy means that once the guard has drawn the line, he becomes powerless to undo his mistake, and with one nation's citizen illegally in the other nation, events escalate into full-blown war. While all this goes on, the tension gets too much for the couple, who start to lay bare their relationship, the fact that they describe the same emotions in very different ways becoming as big a barrier between them as the notional border. Pickering (probably most familiar as R. Wayne from Britain's Got the Pop Factor and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice) has a lot of funny moments as the jobsworth guard at the mercy of both his faceless superiors and the bolshy Olivia, and Hall has fun with Olivia's increasingly hysterical frustration not only at the escalating situation, but also at finding out that if she broke up with her boyfriend he probably wouldn't actually literally die of heartbreak.

But the top comedy honours have to go to the adorable Bennett, whose dialogue as the hapless Arthur is perfectly matched by his halting, embarrassed delivery - his desperate smile as he tries to think of a way out of whatever hole he's just dug himself into is a thing of genius and had me grinning through much of the play. Covering a surprising amount of serious political and human ground in its short running time without for a second taking itself too seriously, Bruce Guthrie's production is a little gem. If they can find another suitable short play to pair it with, I could easily see the Finborough bringing this back in the future to its main Tuesday-Sunday run, as it deserves to be seen by more people.

An Incident at the Border by Kieran Lynn is booking in repertory until the 7th of August at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

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