How Late is Never? (Darfur: A Response), Tricycle Theatre, London

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Which theatre in London does most do expand consciousness? My vote goes to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Certainly, for at least the past eight years, it has been our most impressively political theatre.

But I mean also to suggest that several of these Tricycle productions have also done more than most playwrights to extend the stylistic frontiers of drama. Just in terms of theatre aesthetics, the Tricycle is often enough the most remarkable theatre in town.

Its current programme closes on October 28 and looks modest – just six short plays, running less than two hours with interval. But the plays are on Darfur (profits to go Darfur via Aegis Trust and Médecins Sans Frontières), and they add up powerfully.

They take us into thoughts that most of us have not yet thought, feelings that most of us have not yet felt. And they illustrate from many points of view (several per play) what a challenge the Darfur situation has become is to our own humanity.

Brief as these plays are, we’re sometimes as much fully confronted in them with the lower depths of traumatic human experience as we are in the classic tragedies.

Grim though this sounds, the main feeling here is one of revelation. Many Men’s Wife, by Amy Evans, starts folk-style, with three Sudanese men flirting charmingly in Khartoum with the woman who, smilingly, serves them tea.

Only when one man alone proves importunate does she suddenly reprove him. She comes from Darfur, where she has already had many husbands, sometimes four or five at a time, taking turns on her, in the towns they were destroying.

Her thunderbolt-out-of-the-blue is one of the few dramatic masterstrokes I have encountered in new playwriting this year, yet it is not the only masterstroke this evening.

Each is to do with female testimony: in Carlo Gebler’s Silhouette a traumatised sister, in Winsome Pinnock’s IDP the Pirandello-like loss of identity of a mother and daughter.

It usually takes me over an hour to schlep across London to get to the “Trike”, and I frequently grumble on the way there. Seldom, though, on the way home.
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