Venue: Drama Barn
Playwright: David Grieg
Director: Helen Fletcher
Starring: Ed Duncan Smith, Eoin Connolly, Sam Hinton
Rating: * * * *
The Drama Barn resembles a hybrid between nuclear bunker and rural outshed. The floor is strewn with hay, buckets and wooden crates line the outskirts of the stage and the audience’s attention is immediately drawn towards a noose hanging in the centre; the American pilot (convincingly performed by Eoin Connolly in an unwavering accent) is sat facing it with bloodied uniform and clearly broken leg. It seemed that the chosen stage arrangement would foreshadow the shortcomings.
This noose goes on to act as a podium for each character and their place within the on-going power struggle that formulates ‘The American Pilot’. Sarah strokes it maternally, Evie treats it as a swing and The Trader at climbs it in a momentary money-fuelled high. This play on supremacy and control is made relevant in today’s society by exploring America’s intervention in the surrounding world. After an American pilot has crashed into a foreign and alien land, his destiny is placed in the hands of the formerly powerless surrounding him.
Roles are reversed here as ‘Big Bully America’ becomes the tortured outnumbered and precedence is given to the Captain (Sam Hinton) and Translator (Ed Duncan Smith). The deliberate mistranslation of language between the Pilot and other characters presents itself as a clear parody of international war correspondence in contemporary society.
This misunderstanding is a dichotomy of endearing as well as frustratingly tense, made all the more believable by the cast’s superb acting. The Captain is at times made farcical by his own ignorance and egotism: Hinton’s deliverance of “Everywhere I go, I wear sunglasses” had the audience roaring and eager for more; his contrasting brutality became harrowing.
Evie’s innocence and determined optimism – captured by the soft voice and youthful movements of Cat Smith – became a comforting foil to the violence around her. Pilot managed to evoke sympathy. All actors demonstrated the multi-faceted dimensions of their characters: Duncan Smith’s Translator was at first maliciously power-hungry, only to be revealed his weaknesses and motives for his actions later; Sarah was suitably nurturing yet pained and the audience couldn’t help but empathise with the utterly powerless situation the Farmer (Mark Smith) had been placed in.
Occasionally the seating layout meant that it was difficult for the actors not to turn their back on areas of the audience, clouding their expressions and the action. An abrupt ending after a lengthily drawn-out unravelling of characters came as unexpected; but this is down to the complexity of the plot structure as opposed to the acting or direction, and is perhaps the point as by this technique the finale was made the more poignantly – and suddenly – heart-rending.
Those who didn’t manage to catch the maturity and complexity of this outstanding performance truly missed out.