Robert Schenkkan’s Building the Wall brought the stars out for press night, with Bryan Cranston and Juliet Stevenson among its esteemed audience. It’s little surprise. Schenkkan’s latest play is a nice little coup for the Park Theatre – an 80 minute gallop through a near-dystopian (but still bleakly Trumpian) future, which has already found favour with American audiences and gets its UK debut here in N4.
It is 2019 and President Trump has been impeached. So far, so believable. Rick (Trevor White) is incarcerated awaiting sentencing for inexplicable crimes and grants a single interview to share his ‘truth’ – with the African-American historian Gloria (Angela Griffin). Gloria’s lifelong relationship with the question of race in America brought her first to academia and then here to Rick’s cell – ‘to understand why you did what they say you did’.
The play is a conversation, – sometimes pensive, sometimes fraught – played into the auditorium through speakers. Jez Bond’s skilful production places our cast inside a glass box, and rather than distance us from the action, it ratchets up the tension. Trevor White is clearly brilliant in boxes – he started out in a cage in the rightly acclaimed Thebes Land, and he puts in an impressively nuanced performance here too. Griffin is also excellent, and wholly convincing as the restless figure trying to find meaning among the evil.
It’s a powerful play that provokes in the unsettling tradition of George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and latterly Black Mirror – all offer dystopian futures that feel scarily plausible and horrifyingly imminent. Some of the dialogue is a tad expositional (not least Gloria’s unerringly chronological line of questioning), but this is a production that will stay with you long after you’ve left The Park.
Reviewed by Michelle Smith
Photo: Mark Douet