Royal Court Theatre, London – until 21 October 2017
What’s Going On? A key theme of Victory Condition is how disconnected human beings (in industrialised countries) have become. The play had two actors, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Jonjo O’ Neill, who played a heterosexual couple in a romantic relationship. The female is black, the male is white, the play begins with them returning from holiday and entering their open plan flat.
They each deliver various monologues, which intercut each other, but are unrelated, whilst they go about their everyday household and personal tasks including; making tea, preparing a meal, changing and showering (offstage), playing a computer game and having a pizza delivered. They perform facing the audience and move around each other, whilst doing and saying things. It is a very well written, very topical play. It is also very well directed and acted.
However, for me, the structure of the play did not work. The series of monologues about different and separate incidents, performed to the audience, left me feeling unconnected from the play. It was almost surreal, in the sense of juxtaposing two unrelated things, like a fish riding a bicycle. I also read the script, which is given the audience, so I know it is a clever script with interesting imagery.
Watching it, I was not emotionally invested in the characters or what was happening, I wasn’t interested. Perhaps Chris Thorpe, the playwright, intends this too? It seems to me that Thorpe’s intention is for the audience not to know whether the male character, who appears to be a sniper, has or is about to shoot someone. I was also unsure whether the female character had suffered a brain haemorrhage; I do not know whether that is deliberate. I didn’t know what was happening.
Although it was dealing with serious issues, it was scattered with humour. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who had most of the humorous lines, was very good as the woman, for example the reference to the chair at her work desk being ergonomically designed, “just not for me,” created ripples of laughter in recognition. She also spoke about the inferred life-giving properties of a can of pomegranate juice, which was also funny. Her one-way discussion about suffering a brain haemorrhage on the tube and everyone hating her for the inconvenience, reminded me of something that happened many years ago. I got on the tube on the way to work and noticed a semi-conscious man sprawled halfway on the seat and half on the floor of the tube carriage. Passengers were stepping over him; I alerted one of the station staff when the train reached the next stop and most if not all of the passengers turned on me, saying things like he’s probably just drunk or on drugs. I replied, no-one knows why he’s barely conscious and anyway the point is he needs help. It didn’t make me very popular. So on reflection is one of the writer’s objectives to make the audience think about our levels of connection/disconnection?
Listening to the laughter, applause and a few gasps from the audience, most of them enjoyed the play. So I think I was one of the few who felt there was a disconnect between the cleverly structured script, reflected by very good acting, and my lack of engagement in the play. Victory Condition raised several issues about the state of the human condition and the world, what’s going on in the Marvin Gaye sense. However in the end I wasn’t sure what was going on in the play.
Victory Condition is at The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs in The Royal Court Theatre from 5 to 21 October 2017.