"Tremendous Scope for Mindful Audiences"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 27/06/17

Director David Mercatali and his entire production team have achieved a triumph in visual and sound designs which impacts upon the audience an undeniable sense that watching and hearing this imaginatively-scripted and deeply felt drama, ‘13’ by Mike Bartlett, is a significant experience.

For today’s generation of students at BOVTS, this choice of play equals its predecessors in challenging their best efforts to embrace and enhance the words with action, energy and enthusiasm, not a jot less successfully than have their countless fore-runners; lasses and lads who have graduated honourably from one of Britain’s top-ranking training academies for performance arts.

Mike Bartlett is no Lionel Bart; no jolly cockney songs here to cheer us up cuz ‘fings ain’t wot they used ter be.’ No sentimental coo-ing over an orphan, cutely asking for more gruel during hard times. But Bartlett is not less than Bart; he is greater. His mind has grappled with the enormously complex state of the world and focusses on the people who contribute to improving or disparaging its condition.

His cast of characters includes raging street protestors, their charismatic leader, who disputes on the People’s behalf with democratically elected politicians and unelected advisors. An American Ambassador with wife and child are pivotal to a crisis of catastrophic proportions in the middle-east and another, tinier but equally devastating, in the kitchen of his family’s diplomatic accommodation.

The issues of capitalism versus compassion are wrenched left and right in a terrible failure of communication that seems at the heart of all the world’s dysfunction. But these arguments bear fruit in the clearly-voiced analyses that reveal the underbellies of each other’s reasons and rhetoric.

Altogether an intriguing piece of serious theatre, its authorship not faultless but un-ignorable in its honest attempt to identify the faults in ourselves that keep us underlings. Yet Bartlett reminds us that from those we decry as ambitious, even greedy, some benefits trickle down. Even the furious street-protestors must be grateful for inventions that allow us to communicate, condole and co-operate. But haven’t they yet to realise we can only speak peace unto nations that listen ?

This is a play for our century in which Mike Bartlett addresses us all. If he preaches at times, forgive him; he writes well what he wishes to say. Haven’t all well-wishers to the human race, resorted to preaching or teaching? How else can their wisdom lighten the darkness of our poorer perceptions.

The excellent performances from every one of the BOVTS student-cast deserve applause for presenting this important work with integrity and such good faith. At The Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Road only until this Saturday 1st July. “Let ‘13’ be your lucky play.” (Best pun I can think of).

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