- Shoot / Get Treasure / Repeat
The late-night crowd may have missed one of the most stunning events of the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe [End Page 285] Festival. For "Breakfast with Ravenhill," audiences were invited to take their "free" roll, egg, and sausage into the theatre to witness a twenty-minute rehearsed reading from British playwright Mark Ravenhill's newest work-in-progress: a cycle of eighteen self-contained plays read one play a day over the course of the festival and excerpted daily in The Guardian. As Ravenhill noted in several onstage introductions, he originally intended to write during the festival itself, making use of the high caliber of professional talent available during August in Edinburgh; but in January 2007 he suffered a seizure that caused weakness and severe memory loss. His prudent decision to write sixteen of the plays ahead of time no doubt paid dividends in the quality of the writing. A rotating lineup of volunteer directors and actors, most in other festival shows, met the afternoon before each play for their only rehearsal. Yet even without full production the plays seemed remarkably finished, and an equally effective six-hour production would be difficult to imagine. Enthusiastic audience members got hooked on their daily fix of disturbing political theatre, and the plays soon transferred from the Traverse's smaller to its largest stage to accommodate their popularity.
With its combination of emotionally involving scenarios, barely suppressed anger, and cool political critique, Ravenhill's Shoot / Get Treasure / Repeat bears striking resemblance in structure and theme to Brecht's Fear and Misery in the Third Reich (abridged and translated in 1941 as Private Lives of the Master Class), with everyday encounters between family, friends, and soldiers updated to address the current war on terror. When I read the plays one after the other in script form (having seen most, but not all, of the eighteen performances), the parallels with Brecht's depiction of the rise of fascism were unmistakable. Yet the world sketched before us is not the Germany of World War II, but the equally terrifying world we now inhabit as members of a Western democracy intent on imposing its "freedoms" on the rest of the world. Although each play is different, the underlying questions are similar: how do rape, torture, starvation, suicide bombing, surveillance, trauma, evil, and war's collateral damage become a normalized part of our everyday lives? Perhaps more to the point, how are the lives we lead already implicated in the war on terror? How far have we gone, and how do things get this far?
From its very first moments, the cycle addressed and critiqued the festival audience in interesting ways. The titular Women of Troy (play 1) earnestly asked, "Why do you bomb us? We are the good people. Just look at us." They make healthy breakfasts for their children, read the newspaper, eat only "ethical food," work with the homeless—but the chorus is interrupted quickly with a warning that a car packed with explosives is ready to drive into the castle. As the play progresses, the announcements of increasingly apocalyptic security threats up the ante for characters and audience alike as the self-described liberals ("we tolerate, we accept, we celebrate—difference") begin to see themselves in a never-ending "battle of good and evil" and mentally prepare themselves for martyrdom in the bomb blast that ends the play. In The Crucible (play 6), an actor asks audience members to come forward if they witnessed the brutal onstage attack of a fellow actor the day before, suggesting that we live in a time of "random, violent, horrible, random, pointless attacks . . . no one is safe." The actors suspect that at least one of the audience members—some "rotten egg" who will spoil it for everyone—witnessed the event but "just sat there," and the stage is gradually set for the current audience to witness (as its patriotic duty) the painful torture and "public branding" of a suspect no different than themselves. In Judgment Day (play 7), which follows, the audience literally is put under surveillance...