Writer: Nick Gill
Director Alice Malin
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Everyone has happy memories. Ones they return to every so often, sometimes on purpose, sometimes spurred on by something seemingly unconnected that brings it all pleasingly rushing back. Unfortunately the same mechanic works for troubling or sad memories. What can provide a warming blanket will also sometimes provide a scratchy, painful cloak that you can’t shake off.
Nick Gill’s powerful Fiji Land will come back in flashbacks every so often after you watch it, be sure of that. There are shocking visual pieces but the real source of these flashbacks will be a feeling that you have no idea what you have just watched or whether you are the only one in the room who didn’t understand it properly. If you did, there’s your blanket. If not, prepare for memories of weirdness and confusion.
Three men with no names (“for the best”) in a white, industrial looking room with a load of plants. The First Guy (Stephen Bisland), the bald Other Guy (Jake Ferretti) and the red haired Other Guy (Matthew Trevannion) have to watch over the plants, water them when the alarm sounds and just follow orders and do their job. They’re being paid, don’t question it.
It starts out reasonably normally then gets steadily more bizarre. The Red Haired Other Guy (RHOG) starts to feel increasingly cold to the point where he starts to build an igloo from bits of frost. The Bald Other Guy (BOG) begins to feel so hot that by the end he seems to have a fever and can barely move. The First Guy (FG) just carries on at normal temperature but begins to mentally unravel, at one point having a reasonably graphic sexual encounter with one of the plants.
There’s a lot going on here, that’s the key element that will cause the flashbacks. First off, why are they taking care of the plants? They are in the middle of a war, and that is their job, don’t question it. There are clear references to concentration camps (flagged with quite a heavy handed reference to Nazi camps) with the three men positioned as guards and the plants as proxies for people. They are carried off seemingly at random to ovens, some are left without water and most are abused. Perhaps that’s it? Is it all allegory for how assigning someone to a completely siloed job without giving them wider context removes a lot of the responsibility/blame for their actions and shifts it to a hive/centralised mind? Maybe. But where then does the extreme temperature difference fit in, or the madness of FG? What point the extremely violent part with the scalpel and the eye and the vomit? Why does FG waterboard a small pot plant?
Structurally, it is just as ragged as the storyline. It is broken into 19 unequal parts, separated by dimmed lights and grinding machine noises. The set and lighting (very well done by Ruth Hall and Tom Wickensrespectively) slowly breaks down in time with the characters desertion of their duties to care for the plants. Everything about it builds pressure. Whether it’s in the slowly disintegrating set or the straining relationships between the men, there’s an expectation for a killer payoff that unfortunately doesn’t quite arrive. The ending just spits the blinking audience back into the lobby pumped up and punch-drunk with what’s been happening.
Under Alice Malin’s direction, Gill’s work becomes even more confusing and strange than the playtext would suggest, and really becomes a piece that will stay with you. There’s strong arguments for this being too clever for its own good and not quite working, or alternatively it’s a work of genius. Whether you will enjoy the memories and the moments where you find yourself trying to work out what was really going on is a different matter. To call it a play isn’t quite right, this is theatre or performance. It’s emotionally and intellectually provocative, it’s shocking and it’s really quite enjoyable.
Runs until 8th February