Bridget Boland’s play, Cockpit, has barely been staged since its original production. Perhaps it’s easy to see why since when it was first performed, the events it depicts were still unfolding. A weary but optimistic Britain preferred to look towards the future rather than the messy tail-ends of war. However, the play has become (quite suddenly) glaringly relevant.
Set in Germany during the 1940s, a theatre has been transformed into a temporary holding centre for “displaced persons” from all over Europe, all of whom are waiting to beAll Posts sent to the East or West. A fight over a saucepan soon escalates into something nastier, as one woman spits viciously at another “she is a Jewess!”. Soon, fights are breaking out everywhere: the Poles won’t travel with the Russians, the communists organise to withhold bread from fascist collaborators, a French resistance fighter denounces one of her countrymen. Guns are drawn.
The recognisable subject matter of the struggles of those displaced makes this play highly topical, even if it is set decades before. This is an example of how theatre is effective in commenting on our past and present.
The idea of the show being both set and staged in a theatre leads to mixed results on reception of the show. There are times when it works excellently through cast members performing amongst the audience, and a use of low lighting with signs hung over the theatre’s balconies and visible backstage paraphernalia. However, the illusion also seems forced at times with the line from the character Seargeant Barnes commenting on how the theatre is full-to-bursting with refugees, segregated by nationality into the stalls and circles which is inaccurate. If Wils Wilson, the director, had perhaps included audience participation – maybe by forcing us to move seats depending on our nation or creed – the line would have held more power (although it could result in actual conflicts between audience members!).
Overall, the execution is excellent; the energy is retained throughout, and the commitment by the actors along with the explosive closeness of the action results in a palpable tension which is never quite resolved. Furthermore, the music, movement and vocal performances are deeply affecting, and are used at once to create an immersive effect.
Through this play, Britain’s arrogance in the face of problems on ‘the continent’ provides historical context for Brexit and we are left with a poignant image of a figure huddled in an overcoat with her baby. The play has much to say about today’s world and for that, it is deeply important.
Runs until 28th October
Runs until 28th October
Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic