THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION
A review by John Lampen of Journeymen Theatre’s new touring play.
This play was commissioned by Quaker Concern Over Population, and visits a whole raft of pressing issues. Dave and Lynn Morris, the authors and performers, write: “This play is not able to provide answers to the complex environmental changes we are now seeing and the adaptations our children and grandchildren will be forced to make in order to survive; instead it seeks to ask questions and to demonstrate that each and every one of us is both part of the problem and part of the solution. [This] is the difficult conversation that we’re now having… whether we want to or not.”
And in this play it is difficult indeed for one couple. Ingrid Whittaker Shultz is an immigrant from East Germany; she has a job providing care at home for the elderly, and most of the rest of her time is devoted to activism for various environmental and other causes. Her husband Stewart is a Member of Parliament, very conservative (and probably Conservative – we are not actually told). When he reads his constituents’ letters we see that he can be concerned and conscientious but he is also worried about maintaining the respectable image and finances of the party. His wife’s demonstrating in a mask outside the factory of a prominent local donor is an alarming timebomb. And though he has some sympathy for her advocacy of assisted dying, based on her experience at work, he knows it would be political suicide to take up the idea in parliament. He is upset because her refusal to fly means that they won’t visit close family in New Zealand. At home he’s in trouble for putting items in the wrong recycling bins.
Most of the play is taken up with their arguments. These are not calm discussions leading to compromise solutions. In fact you might wonder how they can possibly have stayed together so long – and the fact that they are still talking and listening to each other (till at the very end) is a tribute to the strength of the marriage. Indeed Stewart can’t help continuing to debate with her even when she is not in the room!
Conflict creates drama. Usually in today’s theatre, the conflict is about relationships and sometimes violence. Here the power comes from the clash of ideas and the emotional commitment to them, as in Bernard Shaw’s best work. This play demonstrates just how dramatic that can be. Ingrid is often very annoying and unreasonable. Stewart is maddeningly slow to concede a point. Neither of them has the whole truth; and indeed there is no agreed answer to the issues they discuss. I would have liked to see them come to full agreement in at least one of their discussions but this would detract from the point of the play which is to make each member of the audience ask themselves, “Where do I stand on this? How far would I go?” (At most performances Dave and Lynn will have a conversation with the audience afterwards.) So conclusions would be out of place in the dialogue, and there is a lot of fun in watching the give-and-take, which is performed with great skill and humour. A thoroughly stimulating achievement.
Audience Feedback from Breeding Ground performances:
'A very funny, interesting and thought provoking play. Let's hope that the future of our planet survives the onslaught. If everyone plays their part, there is hope'
'Such a complex issue, the future of our planet. Cannot boil it down to a limited number of 'causes' and 'solutions' , so your play prompted us to think deeper and further about our own'
'A bringing together of the strands of areas of concern. It also delivered a jolt-posing the question: Am I doing enough? Have I become complacent?'
'Very powerful piece of theatre-so well acted. Power to the people!'
'We need to be patterns and examples, not authoritarians and neocolonialist bullies'
'thoroughly enjoyed yours and David's performances. A well written, relevant and topical piece that is conversationally generative and thought provoking. Lifting the rocks of life to expose emotive issues that need to be discussed. Bravo!