‘The Body Of An American’ Theatre Review
by fifi, Damien Molony Forumer
‘The Body of an American’, written by Dan O’Brien, directed by James Dacre.
The Gate Theatre, Notting Hill 16 January – 14 February 2014
Royal and Derngate, Northampton 27 February – 8 March 2014
American writer Dan O’Brien’s play, ‘The Body of an American’ made it’s European debut earlier this month at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill and I was lucky enough to see its 3rd preview performance on 18 January.
The title of the play is inspired by a prizewinning photo of the dead body of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, taken by photojournalist Paul Watson in 1993. Dan O’Brien contacted Paul after he mentioned in an interview that he had heard the voice of the dead American speak to him and the resulting play charts their developing relationship through email conversations, and their eventual meeting in the Arctic.
Simply staged with just 2 actors and 2 chairs in an intimate, cave-like space, watching the play feels almost like an intrusion on personal conversations, thoughts and memories. The succession of images which are projected at each end of the room act like windows on the outside world, in contrast to the introspective space inside the theatre, while the audience is invited to reflect on the personal battles of the mind and how our experiences shape us against a backdrop of war and domesticity.
At times the pace is frenetic, and the dialogue alternates between the performers, even mid sentence – which can be disorientating, but is somehow not confusing; changes in pace and mood, and an occasional injection of humour, prevent it from feeling like a relentless emotional assault.
While this play appears to be about Paul, or war reportage, it is also about Dan, as his quest to understand Paul leads him to confront his own demons. Surrounded by the audience and with only a chair to hide behind, Damien is compelling as the playwright, drawing the audience into his world with a truthful performance worthy of such open, honest writing. The two actors play a plethora of characters between them, flitting effortlessly between voices and changes in tone as the ghosts of memories intertwine with conversation and Damien is equally engaging as, among others, a parody of a South African psychiatrist and the American soldier’s grieving brother. In Paul, William Gaminara shows us a man haunted by his experiences and self-doubt and together they give a beautifully synchronised performance, both verbally and physically.
With outstanding performances and Dan O’Brien’s clever, beautifully written script, the entire production comes together to create an experience which is sometimes uncomfortable, in a piece of theatre which is intense, compelling and will linger in the mind.
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