Guy Slater’s powerful exposition of the history of Myanmar through the eyes of a leading activist and the BBC reporter who worked with him is a stirring account of those caught up in the front line of revolution.
During the 1988 student revolution rookie BBC World Service reporter Christopher Gunness (Michael Lumsden) reported the events on the ground to the rest of the world, highlighting the atrocities of the military junta. He was aided by local human rights lawyer U Nay Min (David Yip) but when Gunness left the story behind and moved on his contact was left behind to face the music. As Myanmar inches towards freedom and democracy Gunness is invited to return for the first time to participate in a 25th anniversary celebration of the revolt he must face his own guilt as well as be confronted by the man who suffered as a result of his actions.
The events of the past are cleverly interwoven into the reunion as Nay Min asks his old friend to tell the story to his young cousin Maya Tun Aung (Julie Cheung-Inhin) who knows nothing of this hidden history thanks to the censorship of the government and her own relative’s reluctance to share. As part of this narrative Nay Min also reveals to Gunness the extent to which the young reporter was being manipulated and fed misinformation to support the revolution. Further details are revealed in phone calls home to Gunness’ husband Jake Hansard (Patrick Pearson) who has also been kept in the dark all these years.
Tara Arts’ small, but attractive, space is perfectly suited to this intimate reunion and the design by Elroy Ashmore is simple but effective. Slater’s direction keeps the story going whilst giving sufficient time for the emotional depth of the lead characters to develop.
Critical to the success of this play is the two leads who need to be able to carry both the narrative and the intense emotions. Unfortunately, both veteran actors Yip and Lumsden dried up and needed to be prompted but when they did hit their strides both provided engaging and powerful performances. Yip was excellent as someone suffering from post-traumatic stress who has had 25 years to dwell on what happened to him whilst Lumsden builds the sense of guilt and shame until it finally finds release.
Whilst the history lecture might not be to everyone’s tastes this story clearly sets out the challenges facing Myanmar in its current crisis as well but putting such personal trauma at the centre makes this play both more interesting and involving. Assuming the few mistakes can be ironed out this will be a production well worth seeing.
Reviewed by Kris Witherington
Photo: Brendan Foster