Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Prisoner’s Dilemma, Cockpit Theatre

Review: The Prisoner’s Dilemma, Cockpit Theatre

Published in Time Out, 17.11.2014

The morning after the Berlin Wall came down, David Edgar started writing the first of three plays picking at the leftovers of Eastern Bloc communism. Now, 25 years on, Jerome Davis has revived all three, a reminder of just how dexterous Edgar’s political dramas can be. The answer, unfortunately, is too dexterous for Davis.

Having already considered inceptive democracy (The Shape of the Table) and cultural reconciliation (Pentecost), Edgar turns his attention to post-Soviet peace negotiations in The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Two fictional ethnic groups, the Kavkhazians and the Drozhdanians, are embroiled in a bitter civil war and locked in peace talks. Neither side can give way, but both lose out by continuing war. It’s down to Finnish diplomat Gina Olssen (Jeanine Frost) to find common ground.

Edgar’s very good at extending a simple situation into genuine complexity. Personal histories intrude in proceedings, front-line flare-ups change the negotiating-room temperature in an instant, and Western third parties try to twist things to their advantage. For Gina, an exasperating situation looks increasing unwinnable.

But Davis’s production can’t handle Edgar’s incisive nuance. His cast play emotion over situation, meaning we get an awful lot of professional diplomats squaring up and shouting in each others’ faces. Amidst all the blunt antagonism and emphatic opposition, Edgar’s intricate plotting gets mangled. Dodgy Russian accents (‘Ve are vel avare…’) don’t help matters, and if you thought negotiating peace treaties took a long time, you should sit through some of these scene changes.

On this evidence, the Iron Curtain Trilogy is great programming – but by the wrong people.

Photograph: Jason Dail

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