Nicolas Royer-Artuso’s one-man show 4’33’’ in Baghdad, directed by Ulfet Sevdi, is like a savage Jonathan Swift satire delivered by an unflappable TED talk academic. It’s also got male stripping in it. Let me try and explain.
Royer-Artuso purports to be presenting the findings of his research into a Baghdad performance of John Cage’s famous silent piece of “music”, 4’33’’. He offers to spice up this potentially dry lecture by interspersing it with some striptease.
Initially, it seems he really is informing us about a music festival created by America as a way of bringing culture to the country they’ve just devastated. But when Royer-Artuso then plays a recording of what he says is a performance of Cage’s piece, we just hear (and see) CNN’s footage of the shock-and-awe bombardment. Further “recordings” of the piece from places such as Libya and Syria turn out to be sounds of a war zone filled with the cries of the dying and of terrified children. Silence, it seems, means different things in different places.
If all this sounds heavy handed, Royer-Artuso delivers it with such disarming ease and good-humour, it comes across as bleakly funny, thought-provoking, charming and distressing all at the same time. The closing moments have Royer-Artuso walking from the stage, leaving us with footage of a war-blinded child singing. How, this quietly powerful show asks, can we remain silent in the face of such things?
4’33” in Baghdad has unfortunately ended its Fringe run, but there’s still time to catch another urgently political piece, Marie Barlizo’s new play, Lucky (at Too Close to the Sun Studio). Directed by Sophie Gee, it revolves around the fall-out of a one-night stand between a young Filipina woman (Katharine King) and a violent skinhead (Christian Jadah) with a swastika tattooed on his chest. Lucky raises questions about the pressures on some Asian women to meet parental expectations of perfection, and the anxiety and rage of some white men over the notion that they’re being supplanted by other cultures and races.
What begins as a seething and hostile back-and-forth between the two characters turns into a kind of crime caper when a third character (Jeremy Cabrera) shows up. There are echoes of the Coen Brothers and Tracy Letts’s Killer Joe in these developments, though without the black humour which might have made the tone of the piece more varied and the unlikeliness of the plot twists more easy to take on board. The play is described as a work-in-progress, and I don’t yet feel it convinces that, say, characters would remain in a perilous situation to deliver long monologues about themselves.
Performed in a stark room with just one overhead light and an anglepoise lamp, there is some powerful up-close acting, especially from Jadah, and a couple of harrowing fight scenes are carried off with brutal efficiency.