Venue: The Drama Barn
Fahrenheit 451, put on in the Drama Barn this weekend, is an exercise in mood. Throughout the play, smoke hangs in the air, a constant reminder of the current state of this dystopian America, one where “firemen” burn all books in an act of censorship. The set design complements this imagined future perfectly; in the home of our main character, Guy Montag, all we see is a bare, worn couch, and often what we hear is the static and robotic voices of the imagined TV in the corner. This meeting of futurism with old sofa’s, basic chairs and tables, is what delivers some of the larger themes in the play: the fall of intellectualism in society and the brainwashing of the public by mass media.
What’s most interesting is that while the “firemen” are clearly a part of a totalitarian government, various speeches in the play suggest that the censorship was a simply a reaction to the already failing intellectualism of the public, rather than any oppressive policy that was in direct opposition to the way of the people.
And this is where much of the tension of the world comes in. We are exposed to different philosophical ideologies: primarily, those who remember a time of reading fondly and those who have chosen to forget. Guy Montag, played excellently by Ben Kawalec, is fireman, caught in the middle of these two worlds, questioning the dystopian state of affairs after a series of events, most notably meeting his teenage neighbour, Clarisse (Bethany Lewis). This relationship between Montag and Clarisse is one of the most crucial in the play, and unfortunately it feels slightly rushed in the beginning. Montag has just met Clarisse, yet is quickly mesmerised by her, taken by her liberal attitude unrealistically quickly. In one of their early scenes, she utters the line “Are you happy?”, which, due to it being such a well-worn cliche, comes off as artificial. As their relationship develops, however, and Montag begins to question the society around him, one that is highly consumerist, brain-dead and hedonistic, his relationship with Clarisse starts to feel natural. It is a shame that their relationship is soiled a little by rushed character development at the beginning of the play, for some of their joint moments on stage are poignantly realized.
Despite this, Montag’s relationship with his coworkers at the firestation, a humorous duo played with excellent wit and timing by Martha Owen and Samantha Finlay, add to the tone of the world, one where at a moment everyone is wiling away time, playing cards, and another where they rush to their feet to assume their role as firemen, rushing to the scene to stamp out any printed knowledge that exists. This transition from workplace comedy to the aggressive act of book-burning happens frighteningly quickly, believably portraying how the government has affected its employees, both Owen and Finlay showing their humanity and regret when ordered to do their job. Marff Pothen portrays and represents the dark side of this world with incredible talent, playing the ruthless fire chief, carrying her several monologues with ease, teaching the audience how the world has fallen and how it has become what it has. It is because of Pothen that much of the world comes alive, setting the tone throughout.
So yes, you should go see this play. It has its flaws, but walking into the barn, you’ll be transported to another world, one with the pitter patter of rain on an umbrella, one with the echoes of wailing sirens, and one where fear rules almost all who inhabit its streets.