07/04/2020 - 07/04/2020
Entertaining and world-transporting
Review by Emilie Hope 07th Apr 2020
Problems, a radio play by Joe Musaphia, opens with direct, thunderous marching. Slowly we hear some birds tweet and a crowd cheering, followed by a heavy vehicle rolling on by. This sets our world – a military, totalitarian world.
From the macro to the micro, we are soon introduced to Boris (Tim Spite) and Stephan (Jed Brophy), who are two men of the State Guard. They are charged with standing outside the room of Our Great Leader, the Supreme Being. He gave birth to The Revolution, ran it and is currently taking a nap. Neither Boris nor Stephan will leave their post under any circumstances, lest they are caught or the other one dobs them in and they disappear, like the previous guard, Jacques.
Stephan is deathly loyal to the State, regurgitating their doctrine, much to the annoyance of Boris, who takes everything with a grain of salt and has a more holistic view. In Problems, the Revolution remains vague; it’s more of an upheaval of the old state into what they have now. Stephan quotes academics like Heisenberg (whom Boris claims never existed), asserting that men were not descended from apes, and treats the Great Leader as though he were more god than human, although he claims the Great Leader is not a god but a “moral intellectual colossus”.
We quickly side with Boris, for he seems more reasonable and grounded than head-stuck-where-the-sun-don’t-shine Stephan, especially after Stephan announces that his wife was commandeered to sleep with General Cleb (Paul McLauchlan). Such a trauma was just “forgotten” by himself and his wife. This is most certainly a dystopian world where, once again, women are not safe. Yet, as the play goes on, Stephan shows true vulnerability and fear for the state that shows him to be a more complex character than first credited.
The back-and-forth between these two characters, who are not quite friends, is entertaining and believable. They bicker like two old men – but Spite and Brophy’s voices are quite similar. Many times I am unsure of who is whom. Through their bickering, it is revealed that Boris is drinking buddies with General Cleb, who is the Head of Security, and therefore knows all processes. Stephan tries to one up him by announcing his wife has access to Section Seven, and has read Boris’s file. Both try to unsettle the other in order to have power over them and get them to do what the other wants. Power shifts constantly see-saws.
The play escalates in the usual manner, when Stephan is instructed by Madam Great Leader (Jude Gibson) to wake her husband and shortly after, Boris is instructed by General Cleb to let the Great Leader sleep. It escalates again once they find their Great Leader with his eyes open, foaming at the mouth, and utterly still. Is he dead? What should they do? Will they be incriminated? What is the protocol?
Problems examines the lives of two men who are just pawns in a much larger game; who believe they have more leverage than they do. Yet, I am left wondering about the world itself. Is this New Zealand? The actors Kiwi accents would suggest so, especially with largely English and French character names. If it is then it does seem quite unbelievable, yet there is no mention of any neighbouring countries and so I am unsure where exactly I am in the world. And what is the role of women? And what is the point of the State? To control people to what end? What is the message we are meant to be walking away with? And what does become of Boris and Stephan, as I find the audio at the end unclear.
I feel Problems, while entertaining and world-transporting, is only the first half of a much longer play, one which I would be interested in hearing more of.
The stage play, Problems, was produced at Circa Theatre in May 2018.
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