Dark and compelling, Stephen Sewell's challenging play is the sort of drama that produces sheer sensory overload on first acquaintance, its stark, sinister portrait of a country teetering on the edge of democracy deeply unnerving. Yet as the first visceral impact diminishes it's the undoubted power and clarity of Sewell's vision that lingers longest: this is a play that sets up an important, highly topical debate and sends one out with a whole host of questions demanding answer.
Set in contemporary New York, the play revolves around one Talbot Finch (Jonathan Guy Lewis), a Liberal Arts lecturer who suddenly finds his life turning into a latter-day equivalent of Kafka's The Trial as he becomes the target of unspecified brutality and interrogation. The articulate Finch is seeking the stability of academic tenure but his outspoken views on America's dubious security policies (as epitomised by Bush's Patriot Act) post 9/11 are at odds with those of his more cautious self-seeking colleagues. Plunged into a nightmare world where a brutal man (David Rintoul) can appear and threaten him with complete impunity, Finch finds everything he holds dear- wife, job and security- rapidly disintegrating.
At the heart of this disturbing drama is the essential concept of democracy under siege in a land where the notion of 'the truth' is allegedly becoming superfluous in the light of staunchly defending the status quo in a world purportedly engulfed by terrorism: it's the whole concept of 'might is right' all over again. When Finch asks his interrogator in what people are supposed to have faith, the reply is simply 'America', a chillingly didactic response that is supposed to negate further enquiry.
In such a tight-knit, emotionally claustrophobic piece the quality of performance is integral and happily this production boasts a superb central performance from Guy Lewis as the beleagured lecturer who maintains his integrity to the end. He's no saintly figure though but a complex, contradictory man who retains his humanity in the face of extreme provocation. Amanda Royle is impressive as Eve, Finch's scriptwriter wife and David Rintoul is equally effective as the anonymous thug, a man who uses quotes as one would arrows but with a chilling lack of real comprehension. Tim Meacock's simple yet highly effective set compares Finch's rooms to a prison cell and Sam Walters' taut direction keeps everything completely engrossing.