I went to see Red Fortress at the Unicorn Theatre last night. The Unicorn is a children’s theatre (or young persons theatre, if you prefer) in Southwark and this was the premiere of Carl Miller’s new play set in 15th Century Spain.
Rabia (Muslim), Luis (Jewish) and Iago (Christian) are three children who live in Granada as the armies of Ferdinand II approach. To further emphasise their differences as a trinity Rabia is emotional, Luis is intellectual and Iago is physical. They spend most of the play battering themselves against each other’s religion and nature before discovering that – wouldn’t you know it? – they are all in love with each other. Now, I liked Red Fortress quite a lot but this came perilously close to ruining the play for me. This supposed love triangle is so obvious, so perfunctory that it is an insult to the sophistication on display elsewhere. To hammer home the point Rabia declares: “We’re a triangle! It’s algebra!” This is nicely punctured by Luis pointing out that actually triangles are geometry but it shouldn’t have to have been punctured in the first place.
There was also rather too much acting. For reasons I will never understand theatres are loathe to publish cast details except, occassionally, on easily loseable slips of paper available in the foyer. So I can’t tell you who played Rabia but she seems to have confused playing a child with playing someone with learning difficulties. I was not the only person to notice this because I heard the kid behind me ask his companion: “Is she meant to be a spaz?” I believe the answer is no but it is true that it was sometimes hard to tell.
It is a very busy play. All the actors except the three leads play multiple roles, there are many scenery changes and even at over two hours the plot feels compressed and confused. Lots of ideas are nicely touched on but not fully explored. The tone also veers all over the shop from icy heartbroken pain to satirical songs about consumerism. There was a great, show stealing skit in which Chris Columbus turned up to explain to the audience his play to sail to Japan but this only reinforced the somewhat chaotic nature of the play. In fact, the main unifying thread is Tunde Jegede’s excellent score performed by three onstage musicians including (I think) himself.
And yes, despite everything I did like it (although I don’t think it deserves the rave reviews it got.) Its chaos is part of its charm as is its exuberance and ambition.