Writers: Avaes Mohammad Mtume Gant
Director: Baba Israel
Sound Design: Jason Singh
Visual Design: AlbinoMosquito
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
We gather in the foyer to await our guide, and are taken, in groups of eight, up a staircase. Twice we are told to pause and breathe deeply, the space requires it. We enter an ante-room and are instructed to wash our hands in a row of water filled bowls. Sand filled bowls stand beside them. It’s tempting to plunge my hands in but I suddenly feel the need to do as I’m told. I rinse my hands and dry them on a fluffy white towel.
Our guide knocks on the door and we wait. They’re ready for us. We file in and are seated in boxed in rows on either side of the space. Audience as jury. Newsreel plays. Tony Blair and George W promising to save the Iraqi people from tyranny, a Mujahideen attesting on YouTube to do the same. When we’re all settled, two bodies appear, trapped within a black gauze box on a sandy floor, a US soldier and an Iraqui insurgent. We don’t know why they’re there and neither do they.
New York actor Mtume Gant and British poet, playwright and performer Avaes Mohammad deliver their own powerful take on Sartre’s notion of Hell being other people. Thrown together, imprisoned, and tormented with disturbing sounds and sights by a faceless persecutor, facades begin to crumble as the memory of their crime, carried out in the name of war, re-surfaces.
Mohammad delivers an easy, laid back performance, of a man who, although terrified, really believes he has God on his side. Gant’s US captain, with his tough exterior, has more to lose, and he does. Gant’s tremendous physical performance makes his speedy unraveling perfectly believable. He develops a disturbing tremor, and all bravado falls away as he’s forced to confront the fact that he stood by and watched while atrocities took place.
The two actors provide a mesmerizing hour of text-driven hard-hitting theatre, but this is so much more than just an intimate studio two-hander. Jason Singh’s sound and AlbinoMosquito’s visual design are hugely successful in creating a highly unique space, adding to both the drama and the intrigue. Lighting outside the box reveals us, the audience, as strangely detached onlookers, collaborators with the unknown persecutors. The two men can see us, shout at us, plead with us, and yet we do nothing, say nothing. Projections and sound create a force field, blinding light, a swarm of deadly looking spiders, howls, torment, fear.
The pre-amble with the deep breathing and hand-washing adds little and is perhaps too long. The production hardly requires the additional scene setting – and it’s not clear exactly what it was meant to achieve. Something more unsettling might have worked better. In the end, though, it hardly matters. This is a powerful piece of theatre in which not all our questions are answered, not all our fears are calmed. Fields Of Grey sends us back out into the world with more of both. Just like good theatre should