The world is much like our own. Student protests, anxious politicians, struggling individuals. United by a shared night-terror of destruction, and brought together by a prodigal Welshman, the people in Mike Bartlett’s 13 begin to question. Everything.
A vast cube emerges out of the misty abyss of the Olivier’s backstage and becomes an imposing presence for the majority of the play. Taking advantage (as always) of the revolve, it becomes a cage, a parody of the number 10th draw, the interior of an office block. But is always there, overshadowing the people below. This incredible design was worked by Tom Scutt, and proved to be a dominating force throughout the performance, as well as an interesting take on the Pandora’s Box myth.
A few weak performances were balanced out by the talent of Trystan Gravelle, the Jesus-like revolutionary, whose simple sincerity grew to a desperately passionate plea. Similarly, Geraldine James (best known for films such as Calendar Girls, Sherlock Holmes, and Arthur) portrayed female Prime-Minister ‘Ruth’ with solidarity and confidence. Other notable performances were the parts of Amir, played by Davood Ghadami, the comical Shannon (Katie Brayben), and the tormented Sarah played by Genevieve O’Reilly was both gripping as well as thought-provoking as she is taken to the brink of insanity by her precocious daughter (Jadie-Rose Hobson).
At times, this show took on elements of Artaud’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ – flashing lights and increasingly loud music encompass the huge Olivier auditorium and bring the audience to the edge of sensory overload. These methods, when used in such an effective way, help to push the message of the play and provide a rather extreme experience to come away from.
It is becoming clear that a generation of playwrights is emerging from the cinema-era, however Bartlett shows that this means new plays that dare to dream big and imagine far more on stage than we’ve seen before. Spectacle and impact are the words that come to mind, still not detracting from the sense of storytelling and the power of the written word as Bartlett exposes a real eye for the present time. 13 builds on the subject of political debate and the question of faith to produce a masterpiece of innovative direction and intriguing, if somewhat disturbing, theatre.