When Do We Start Fighting? @ Courtyard Theatre, London

cast list
Kelsey Cameron, Rebecca Killick, Matthew Judd, Kieranjit Gumtali, Michael Morrison, Fingal McKiernan, Amanda McLaren, Lucy Wallace

directed by
Charlie Shand
There’s an abundance of atmosphere in Charlie Shand’s play, When Do We Start Fighting?, that doesn’t fully compensate for the lack of character development.

The play is inspired by the militant protest groups of the 1970s, such as The Weathermen, who, disheartened by the US’s involvement in Vietnam, began to feel that marches and sit ins were not enough..

They wanted to bring the war home, to adopt the methods of the Viet Cong on American soil, to trigger a revolution.

When Do We Start Fighting?, the question in the title neatly caturing he feel of the piece, conveys the urgency and rage of this counter-cultural subset, who seem so eager to burn the world and start afresh though there’s an awful lot of bickering, fucking and tripping before they get to that stage.
These kids talk the talk well enough and may know how to mix a Molotov Cocktail, but when it comes to making a move, making their mark, well that requires a precision of thought at odds with their zoned out meanderings. A few of them seem strong-minded enough to carry out their plans but the rest seem to struggle with things as simple as making a typewriter work or placing a phone call.

Writer and director Shand winds together several narrative strands and a number of locations, though everything plays out on a single set (designed by Kirsty Henderson, Niki Riggs, and Anna Kirwan), which appropriately decked out like grubby student digs, with protest posters on the walls, a floor peppered with rugs and a battered (and bug infested) bed at the centre of things.

One character, throat bloody from a gunshot wound following a clash with the National Guard, narrates from beyond the grave, providing a potent reminder that not everything was going on in their heads, that there was a real battle, real violence. But, in concentrating on establishing mood, the characters fail to take shape and it becomes difficult to differentiate one from the other. There is a lot of overlap and repetition, with things blurring together in an unwelcome way. As a result, when the play’s most dramatic scene arrives the torturing of one of the more vocal and capable protestors by a CIA agent it feels almost amusing, such is the shift in tone: action eclipsing inaction.

There are obvious contemporary parallels here, but the play doesn’t hammer them home. It succeeds in making the audience think about the prevalence of apathy in regards to the world’s current conflicts and about how an act of protest can become an act of terrorism, about just where that line falls. The final scenes contain a nice nod to Fight Club, which feels very much like an influence. But while it is thought provoking, and the young cast do their best with the material, it’s the fogginess and the noise of the piece that leave the strongest impression; the shouting and aggression become tiresome some time before the show’s 80 minutes are up.

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