There is a War is striking in its attention to detail. Walking into the Corpus Playroom on Tuesday night, the audience were met with a rich pre-set complete with the sounds of a hot summer night, actors both on stage and seated in the audience, surrounded by a campsite which at once evoked an intermittent war base and a school summer camp. Each actor was decked out in Wes Anderson style boy-scout costumes. Filled with an intense curiosity, I took my seat, and was pleased to find that this vibrant and surreal energy continued throughout the production.
The story revolves around a war – an unspecified war, in a place only ever referenced in relation broadly to ‘the north.’ This war operates by rules which quite literally come and go, and is fought by two indistinguishable armies, the blues and the greys, whose tactics and leaders become more and more ridiculous as the play progresses. Kitted out with toy guns, tambourines, and flimsy paper certificates this play is disarming in its innocence and ominous in its implications.
We meet an array of characters both wonderful and deeply weird, sometimes stern and frequently surreal. The narrative revolves around Anne, a well meaning doctor trying to make it to the front line. The scenes whizz around her in an episodic manner which makes way for some amusing encounters (particular a scene in which the hands and heads of the dead are muddled in the disposal process, leading to a wonderful interaction between Marlie Haco and Rachel Loughran who deserve special recognition). However, this episodic style also means the momentum dips at points. This is particularly noticeable towards the end of the show, with the first hour being noticeably stronger. This meant that the ending of the play was not entirely clear, and it seemed to fizzle out somewhat, rather than come to a conclusion.
The set (designed by Jack Parham) was minimal but incredibly versatile and played to the strengths of the ever-changing scenes and characters. Every scene made intelligent use of props and costumes and there was an endless array of tiny details and effects which reflect the level of hard work that had clearly gone into this play. This was matched by the sharp script which is abundant in brilliant one-liners.
The creative force behind this show was its strongest asset, and it was clearly created by a particularly dynamic and imaginative cast and crew. It was a joy to watch a show which was ambitious in every element, and consistent in its aesthetic aims. Every scene induced a lot of laughter and it was nice to see a play which did not take itself too seriously. A special mention should be given to Ella Blackburn for her earnest portrayal of Anne, and also to Archie Williams whose scenes were a particular highlight for me. I was also impressed by the energy and versatility shown by Charlotte Husnjak.
Olivia Gillman and her creative team make a playground war which is so silly that the occasional reference to a brutal truth or incident of violence are deeply unsettling. The war and its armies are ridiculous – but that’s the point. It dips between child’s play and something darker, more scary, and despite the water guns, the dancing, the impressions, the party poppers, and the myriad of characters, There Is A War confronts the absurdities of combat, leaving the audience with an abundance of laughs but at times a distinct feeling of unease.