Review: Obedience/Authority

Daniel Matore 23 May 2012


Corpus Lateshow, 9.30pm, until Sat 26 May

Writer and Director Fergus Blair has used the notorious Milgram experiments conducted at Yale in the 1960s as the springboard for an original drama. The play begins unsurprisingly, replicating the teacher/ learner set-up of Milgram’s research with a confident and loquacious Morley (Andrew Room) testing the memory capacity of a twitchy and masochistic Bohlen (Matt Clayton) and administering electric shocks where the latter slips up, both being observed by the hard-nosed Doctor (Chloe France). However, the script has the good sense to veer from any such true-to-life re-enactment, sobering and educative though it might have been, to a much more surreal and enigmatic path where the ‘teacher’ performs a violent coup, subjecting the Doctor to his own experimental retelling of a meth-fuelled trip to Tijuana.

Much of the play, admirably, provides only hints and nudges as to possible sub-plots and allegiances, so that until the understated ending there is a simmering sense that matters could be turned on their head. Admirable too was the unsettlingly flat pacing engineered by the rambling, cliched story of the Mexico trip being recited by Morley, the aimless protraction manifesting his arbitrary sense of power. This metatheatrical doubling of the Doctor being a second audience, her own attention span and lapses mirroring ours, worked very well – especially at a pivotal point where her admission “I wasn’t really listening” is brutally punished. The general flatness was punctuated by abrupt bursts of abuse, scenes like the Doctor crawling across the floor pursued by a stamping Bohlen which were offset by farcical attempts at a Mexican accent – Matt Clayton should be given particular credit for negotiating the tragicomic giddiness with convincing aplomb. In particular, the scene where Morley and Bohlen batter the Doctor with increasingly bizarre questions was excellently written and executed.

The play wasn’t without its faults, however. The protagonist Morley was a shallowly sketched figure who inexplicably dressed like the Fonz from ‘Happy Days’, and this, along with the stock Mexican drug story, irritatingly located the play neither in Britain or America, but some flimsy limbo in between. The character of the Doctor was aptly faceless given the probing of normal dynamics of authority, but it still felt like she could have been given occasional chances to let some personality or other nuances slip. While this was a strong script, there were also a few moments of awkward diction, and it felt like a modest rewrite could have sharpened it up. Nevertheless, this was a commendable production that would be well worth mounting again.

Daniel Matore