Review: John 8:6

V.S. Wells reviews the Drama Barn’s punchy and political play

venue:Drama Barn
rating: ★★★★☆

Sam Went is better known for his work as Comedy Soc’s head writer, so it might seem a bit out of the ordinary for him to write a political play. However, for one night only the interior of the Drama Barn was turned into the Vice-President of the United States’ office, complete with discretely hidden whiskey bottle.

The plot revolved around a fictionalised version of the current Syrian crisis. A never-seen president has informed his deputy, John Weyland (Lewis Dunn), that America is deliberating whether or not to go to war and it is up to the Vice-President to make a decision and “do the right thing”. Deftly navigating the intricacies of political turmoil, the plot calls for Weyland to have help with his decision.

Advice comes in the form of a priest, a human rights activist, and a General in the army. Each character presents a different perspective on the matter, arguing and conceding points with considerable depth considering the short timescale of the play. The fictional turmoil of the play was clearly based on the current Syrian crisis, including direct references to chemical warfare, which gave the dialogue a sense of contemporary relevance.

Though the set-up felt somewhat contrived, the content of the play was gripping and easy to follow, even for those not au fait with current political events. The expository monologues were shot through with wry quips, and some of the bleaker one-liners resulted in hearty laughter from the audience.

The biggest problem with the play was its slight lack of polish. Occasionally actors spoke with backs turned to the audience, or blocking out other characters on stage: the slickness of performances with longer rehearsal periods was noticeable.

However, the conclusion of the play was where the real intrigue lied: turning it into a meta-fiction, Weyland directly appealed to the audience to cast their votes on whether or not the US should go to war, in effect asking which character’s convictions had been most convincing.

Overall, the cast and crew should be proud of John 8:6. Clocking in at just under half an hour, the punchy dialogue and careful mapping of a complex political issue turned what could have been a dull morality lecture into what was instead, a thought-provoking and entertaining evening of theatre.

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