war war brand war

Mon 17th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Isabella Goldstein

at 10:46 on 20th Aug 2015

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War war brand war is a savvy and thought provoking performance. Exploring the implications of ‘spin’ culture upon society, the play captures the moral ambiguities surrounding modern warfare and its reportage.

Whilst its fifty minute running time was inadequate and left the show feeling unfinished and underdeveloped, war war brand war is generally successful as a satire, with good quality acting helping to flesh out its disturbing comic undertones.

In this play war is not fought but marketed – from the government, to the press, to the marketing corporations - everyone seems to have a stake in its circulation and proliferation.

The series of videos that play in the background throughout the different scenes are clever use of the stage, exemplifying how the modern globalised world treats war as a commodity for sale, indistinct from the high fashion or perfume of the advertisements shown.

The links which are drawn between the twin tyrannies of war and media monopoly are expertly extracted and examined by the cast, a tightly wound regiment in business suits. The empty, nonsensical buzzwords that they spout may help them to meet their quarterly targets but, the play asks, at what expense to their values?

Each of the characters – from the journalist who goes mad to the depressed special advisor to the disillusioned communications executive – all suffer as a result the propaganda they help to generate and proliferate. The dark comedy of the journalist-turned-soldier’s proclamation that “intervention is the power of the Gods” reminded me of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dolce et Decorum Est;’ perfectly encapsulating the tragic fallacies which continue to surround war nearly three quarters of a century on from WWII.

However, the show is not without its issues. The amount of buzzwords being tossed about the stage means that the dialogue sometimes becomes difficult to follow. Whilst this rush of jargon was clearly meant to confuse us, for me it did not work as intended. Rather than to demonstrate the lack of substance underlining their language, it seemed samey; too predictable a mode of representation.

This is part of a wider problem that war war brand war has when it comes to emphasising its message. Although interesting and original, the writing is let down by its attempts at cleverness, the script too often verbose and difficult to keep up with, and ultimately it could have benefited from a more simple and subtle approach to its subject matter.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that war war brand war is a play with a lot of interesting and insightful things to say. Certainly, if you are looking to view original political satire at this year’s Fringe, this is the place to start.

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Luke Howarth

at 13:57 on 20th Aug 2015

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An adaptation of Oresteia, written and performed by students from Cambridge University, war war brand war attempts to explore the recent political and journalistic practice of disguising or manipulating the language of war; the play warns of the dangers of concealing an aggressive foreign policy with a cynical PR-campaign. So an ‘invasion’ becomes an ‘intervention’; the life of a soldier is glamourised with a perfume commercial.

Thom May, who wrote the piece, likes wordplay. The government-cum-marketing-department inhabited by Alice (Rebecca Thomas) and Karen (Sasha Amaya) is a haven of spin – its employees walking thesauruses, endlessly synonymising. An idea is picked up and rotated like a prism until the colours look best. This is an effect that has potential but lacks impact in Grace Joseph’s production; their enormous wordlists sound rehearsed, and the chemistry between the characters is dubious, with Thomas’ restlessness proving an uncomfortable contrast to Amaya’s wry calm.

The Pembroke Players’ production is frequently too clever for its own good. A dense and allusive plot is relieved by little compelling exposition on the part of the company. When the curtain falls after merely forty-five minutes, the sense of anti-climax is palpable; the play tells its characters’ stories with such rapidity that they feel more like unfortunate micro-biographies than a captivating narrative – we barely recognise Henry Wilkinson’s impassioned journalist from one scene to the next. And all this in a performance that involves tediously stylised – visually underwhelming – scene-changes, as if we the audience need thinking time between the scenes in May’s episodic script.

The episodes fluctuate in quality. In particular, a conversation in a therapist’s office feels heavy-handed and profoundly unrealistic, and the scene between Wilkinson and Rebecca Cusack – mother and son – is stilted and unconvincing. May’s play is unsure of which satirical line it treads; it is certainly not very funny (those hoping for a ‘climb the mountain of conflict’ moment of inspiration will be disappointed) – nor is its pathos very convincing. The characters speak from behind a gulf of synonymy and tautology, and we are left with a play that is afraid to commit either to humour or anger, and is ultimately overwhelmed by its subject matter as a consequence.

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