by Simon Stephens
Directed by Laurence Strangio
With Brett Cousins, Dion Mills, Sarah Sutherland, David Whiteley, Richard Bligh & Cleopatra Coleman
Set Design by Peter Mumford
Lighting by Richard Vabre
Sound by Laurence Strangio
Motortown (21 Nov, 2007 – 22 Dec, 2007) John Bailey, Sunday Age (09/12/07)
War isn’t hell. If Red Stitch’s current production is to be believed – as it should be – the conventional drama vilifying combat is just a distraction. The real perdition is what comes after.
When Danny comes home to his crappy town in Essex, he’s really got nothing bad to say about his tour of duty in Basra. The way he puts it, Iraq was mostly ginger beer and shenanigans with the lads. He does seem a little haunted and sometimes goes red-faced and intense when reminiscing, but that’s probably nothing. He is also obsessed with a girl he’d been dating briefly before he went off fighting. When he finds out she’s not interested any more, and then he gets a gun from some dodgy London types, you begin to wonder if Danny hasn’t maybe left a little bit of himself back in Basra.
Brit playwright Simon Stephens doesn’t pull any punches with this, the first feel-bad hit of summer. Motortown is an unapologetic noughties update of Buchner’s classic anti-war play, Woyzeck, filtered through the post-Vietnam warning calls of Taxi Driver, Coming Home and even a bit of Rambo: First Blood. Luckily, even though you may feel like you’ve seen it all before, you don’t really get much of a chance to rest your peepers because the level of tension, along with the A-grade performances, is shock and awe stuff.
From the measured build-up tracking Danny’s complex mental state to the honestly unnerving violence that forms the work’s moral centre, there’s little to fault in this production. The script is possessed of laugh-out-loud dialogue perfectly counterpoised with the awfulness that unfolds, and the cast get their teeth into it without overplaying at all.
Brett Cousins is brilliant as Danny, on stage for the entire show and only ever less than riveting when sharing the space with his hypnotically watchable brother, Lee (Dion Mills). It’s a hard show to stomach – the visceral violence, exaggerated profanity and sheer anger of the piece can’t be absolved – but nobody shirks their duties here and the audience is left to patch up their wounds as best as they can.
Chris Boyd, Herald Sun (26/12/07)
Motortown (21 Nov, 2007 – 22 Dec, 2007) by Simon Stephens. Directed by Laurence Strangio.
BRITAIN committed about 40,000 troops to the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Brits concentrated their efforts on the south, around the once cosmopolitan port city of Basra.
According to a recent report, the city is now in the hands of gangs and militias. Assassinations, vendettas and vigilantism are common. The British Army — which has slowly withdrawn from the city — is barricaded in its base at Basra airport, which is fired on by mortars five times a day.
This new play by Simon Stephens follows one soldier on his return from Basra to the UK. It shows the flipside of the abuses seen in places such as Abu Ghraib. It looks at the effects on the men and women who have done the abusing, once they have been cut loose back home.
Danny (Brett Cousins) struggles to fit back in. He hates the world he comes back to. He doesn’t even recognise it. The only thing he’s any good at, apparently, is frightening people. This has cost him his girlfriend — his letters home were too much for her — and ruined his relationship with his older brother.
He’s offered work, but can’t imagine life behind a cash register when he’s used to carrying an assault weapon. He buys a replica pistol, a Walther P99, and has it fixed so it can fire live rounds. So he can really terrorise.
Stephens’ writing, at least in this tightly directed production, makes motivation absolutely clear without ever spelling it out . . . an extraordinary achievement.
Character by character, Motortown is a bit of a freak show and presents many challenges to the cast and director. Cousins is chillingly plausible as the increasingly unbalanced squaddie. Sarah Sutherland nails the ex-girlfriend character without turning her into a Liverbird or an extra from Eastenders.
The play is in fact a fine rewrite of Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck. It sees both director Laurence Strangio and the Red Stitch company at the top of their games. It’s violent and, yes, frightening. Best of all, it hits its mark.