Sophie Beckett, Online Books Editor, reviews Joint Venture’s 30 at the Bike Shed Theatre on January 28th as part of the From Devon with Love Festival.
30 was one of two performances devised by the Exeter-based Jointventure Theatre Company which appeared in the festival. The company is a collaboration between Jac Ifan Moore and Viki Browne, both of whom are Exeter graduates and were involved in running Theatre with Teeth during their time here on campus. 30 appears to be mainly Moore’s brainchild. He is the play’s sole actor, and as the performance progresses the audience gains an idea of the personal resonance which the issues tackled in the play have for him.
The play deals with events which have appeared in the news very recently. After a Greenpeace ship was illegally stormed by armed Russian military whilst carrying out a peaceful protest against oil exploitation in remote Arctic waters, 30 activists were detained by the Russian government. Between the 26th of September and the 28th November 2013, each spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in a prison in Murmansk.
30 begins with an image of a polar bear among falling snow projected onto the back wall of the Bike Shed’s sparse theatre. This evocative image, which in many ways encapsulates the purpose of the activists’ struggle, is accompanied by a haunting musical score. The music is indeed one of the most powerful elements of the play and one which lends atmosphere and resonance to its most important scenes.
The play then sets out to tell the story of the activists’ protest and subsequent unlawful arrest and imprisonment. This begins with a voice-over narration, video footage, and Moore in a Greenpeace jacket stumbling across the stage and shining his torch around the theatre in an effort to disorientate the audience.
An account is given of the activists’ time in prison largely through their own words. Diary entries and letters are read out and interview clips are shown, many of which the audience may recognise from recent television. Often Moore acts out the activities described; at one point he crouches in a ‘cell’ created by light shone onto the stage floor, of the same dimensions as the cells detailed by the prisoners.
These accounts are interspersed with short monologues by Moore. Injecting a welcome spark of comedy into an otherwise sombre story, Moore describes his own stint as ‘Greenpeace’s worst employee ever’. He worked for Greenpeace for four days, one of which was a training day. ‘Well, training afternoon.’
Nonetheless, despite its unsuccessful outcome, it becomes clear that Moore’s involvement with Greenpeace changed his outlook on the world irreversibly. He outlines movingly the way in which, having become conscious of all the atrocities being committed on a daily basis throughout the world, he found it impossible to simply lose this awareness when he stopped working for the charity.
This is where the various strands of the play are drawn together. ‘I wanted to be on the boat’, Moore says, referring to the boat of activists who were arrested. ‘I guess that’s what all this is about really. I wanted to be on the boat.’
30 is a newly devised performance and is still a little bit rough around the edges. There is clearly potential for it to be streamlined and perhaps extended, as it lasted for barely half an hour. However, it is nonetheless a moving, thought-provoking performance which poses as many questions as it answers.
Perhaps one of its most striking features is the sheer topicality and resonance of its subject matter. The dilemmas it poses crackle around the small theatre space with electric energy. I’ll definitely be following the progress of this play as it grows and develops in the future.
Sophie Beckett, Online Books Editor
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