The daily headlines alone provide fertile enough material for a critique of rising populism. But Robert Schenkkan’s play forces us to look up from the daily news drip feed and reflect on where an unchecked Trumpism could lead. Not in a far-off, technologically-facilitated dystopia, but as near as next month or next year.
Rick (Trevor White) is being held in solitary confinement awaiting sentencing for… one isn’t quite sure – but it’s clearly not a minor misdemeanour. Academic psychologist Gloria (Angela Griffin) has obtained permission to interview him, with the hope of really understanding how events came to pass. As the play progresses, Rick opens up to Gloria’s questioning and the true horror of what ‘building the wall’ meant in practice is bit-by-bit uncovered. Relayed second-hand in this way, the contingent nature of reality in a world of ‘fake news’ is subtly teased out, and the audience is forced to consider the limits of what they can give imaginative credence to.
This macro-political hook is a perfect dramatic foil to the play’s micro-psychological dynamic. Through Rick’s experience and testimony, it explores timeless questions of moral responsibility of those who find themselves in extreme situations. Although Schenkkan chooses to make Rick a Trump supporter (he was a late convert, attending rallies mainly ‘for fun’), he stands for millions whose disillusionment and apathy more than their convictions make them prey to populism. It is circumstance rather than his politics that puts Rick at the centre of events, which gives this personal aspect to the play wider salience.
White’s superbly-crafted performance as a broken neurotic, who still retains flashes of defiance and articulate self-expression, is gripping throughout. His acting turns a clever script into an emotionally compelling and deeply memorable experience. As the narrative develops towards its crescendo, Gloria struggles to maintain the detachment fitting for a researcher, and her increasingly personal involvement serves to heighten the tension. The entire play is staged in a glass-walled interview room of Rick’s high-security prison and the high-tempo dialogue and narrative benefit from the intensity and absence of distraction that this provides.
This is intelligently-written, thought-provoking theatre at its best, done justice by finely acted parts. It’s essential viewing for anyone with an eye on where the world could be going. And Schenkkan’s message is – that should be all of us.
Playing until 2nd June
Ticket details: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/building-the-wall
ROBERT SCHENKKAN I WRITER
JEZ BOND I DIRECTOR
SARAH BEATON I DESIGNER
SALLY FERGUSON I LIGHTING DESIGNER
THEO HOLLOWAY I SOUND DESIGNER
NATASHA HARRISON I MOVEMENT DIRECTOR
RACHAEL WILLIAMS I PRODUCER
SACHA QUEIROZ I PRODUCTION MANAGER
EMILY HUMPHREYS I COMPANY STAGE MANAGER
GERALDINE DONALDSON I ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
THE SCENERY SHOP I SET CONSTRUCTION
KATE HEMSTOCK I COSTUME SUPERVISOR