Review: Revenants

This new socio-political play set in the past pointedly comments on the present

★★★
theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Revenants. Image: Alex Brenner
Published 06 Aug 2018

A woman, a gay man, a Jamaican and an African-American meet in a wood. This isn’t the start of a joke, but the premise of Nichola McAuliffe's new play. Set during World War II, they are an unlikely group: the Queen Mother, the actor Ernest Thesiger, the Queen’s butler and an African-American solider. All four have different ways of coping with injustices the world imposes on them because they had the audacity to not be born as white men.

This is a polished, naturalistic play addressing issues of privilege and oppression and how these play out in countries divided by race and class. The British characters cannot comprehend racial segregation, whereas the American soldier never encountered white people who treated him like a human being. The white British characters make no mention of poverty and speak positively of the Empire in front of the Jamaican butler. An epilogue which fast forwards to the present neatly puts the scenes from the past in the context of the current American racial and political landscape, though the play suffers from too much exposition and a slow beginning.

The performances are excellent. McAuliffe plays the Queen Mother with a stern authority that keeps the other characters in check. She endows the woman with gravity and power that she manipulates to her own gain, from on-stage characters to those only heard through voiceovers. The soldier (Tok Stephen) is convincingly tense and angry, fed up with racism from fellow soldiers and desperate to start a revolution. His emotions and ideology clash with the others – it's in this conflict that understanding is eventually found.