13 (National Theatre)

Originally published on my LiveJournal blog on 15 November 2011.

A world premiere last night of Mike Bartlett’s new play ’13’, which can be described as an epic depiction of dreams, politics, and ideologies.  Each character has had the same recurring dream which stops them sleeping – monsters, explosions.  These include the Prime Minister, Ruth (Geraldine James), academic atheist Stephen (Danny Webb), US attache wife Sarah (Genevieve O’Reilly), prostitute Holly (Lara Rossi), solicitor Mark (Adam James), and charity worker Rachel (Kirsty Bushell). 

Into their lives comes (or in some cases, returns) the mysterious John (Trystan Gravelle), who draws people to him by his park speeches broadcast on the internet.  This is an age of Facebook, Twitter, viral videos, and good old social brainwashing.  Each character is trying to find their way – Stephen shares his ‘God in a box’ theory; Ruth misses her absent son; Rachel and her boyfriend Amir (Davood Ghadami) slowly grow apart; Sarah feels isolated from her husband Dennis (Nick Sidi) and threatened by her young daughter (Grace Cooper Milton in last night’s performance); Holly’s grandmother Edith (Helen Ryan) struggles with balancing her physical ability (she jogs) with the onset of dementia (she forgets).

The first half is lively, punchy, quick, energetic, culminating in a flashmob dance – the second half is more reflective and is a showcase for Ruth, Stephen and John focusing on the rights and wrongs of the Iran conflict.  Bartlett takes real situations (the recent summer riots) and sets them against the maybes of waging war on a nuclear-armed nation.  A powerful, disturbing, but not entirely successful piece is the result.

’13’ was described by Time Out as ‘must see theatre’ and I would agree.  It does always work, but is always provocative and engaging.