Theatre Review – Battery Farm

Mar 25 2010 | By More

★★★★☆   euphemism frenzy 

Traverse: A Play Pie and A Pint March 2010
Review by Thom Dibdin

Food and death are right back on the menu at the Traverse for the fourth in the Play Pie and A Pint season. Add a hint of sex from the very wonderful Andy Gray and you have just about all the required obsessions for a fully formed modern lifestyle.

Gregory Burke’s science fiction play, set in a “high stocking contentment facility for the post-productive” – what some near-future civilisation might call an old people’s home – hits all the right elements for the lunchtime theatre slot. It is not perfect by any means, but in its brief quirkiness it is both hilarious and poignant, while packing a sly little punch.

Alan Bissett, Andy Gray and Denise Hoey – Pic: Lesley Black

Much of the comedy comes from the euphemism frenzy employed by Burke in the creation of the Ouroboros Industries workstation where regular employee James (played by Alan Bissett) is showing Denise Hoey’s first day trainee, Kate, the ropes.

James is your perfect employee, caring for his charges with a pedantic attention to the acceptable work practice of sleeping on the job and abhorrence of the deviance known as initiative. Bissett has a real love of Burke’s trademark vernacular and creates a sleazy, self-aggrandising little functionary without getting too cliched about it.

Hoey does not have quite as much to work with in Kate, whose university background clearly clashes with James’ lack of insight. And who we quickly realise – although James does not – is one of the idealists who is intent on freeing the guests of the facility from their life of perpetual, virtual sleep – with mainlined familial bliss once every while and an orgasm to keep them quiet if anything goes wrong.

shift the ground

While the characters could do with a bit more rounding out in the writing, and their creation could afford to be more subtle, what is there works excellently. The real edge comes from Burke’s ability to shift the ground from under his audience with revelations which give previous dialogue whole new vistas of meaning.

It is Andy Gray who has the show-stealing role, however, as the guest referred to as “Row NN, Pod 777”. Woken up to be told his contract is about to be terminated, only to find himself the subject of a rescue attempt, there is no wonder that James will need to resort to that orgasm button.

While this brief moment is played to perfection by Gray, it is the surrounding creation of character from looks and facial expressions that makes the performance so astounding. Those who know him from pantomime will be aware of his capacity for comic timing, but up close the basis of that comedy is given plenty or room to become apparent.

The craft of the production lies in its underlying seriousness. Kate’s moral dilemma of whether to save or kill Row NN, Pod 777 when she discovers his true identity and the real nature of Ouroboros Inustry’s industry, whose logo is a self-consuming serpent, are well revealed.

The real strength, though, is in the nature of the future civilisation that you are forced to extrapolate from what you learn. Here is both a dire warning of what our ever-polluting, ever-consuming, ever-obliterating society can lead to, and in Gray’s last, almost throw away line, the hint that we might already have got there.

Brilliant stuff. Not perfect, but a great treat none-the-less.

Run continues to Saturday 27th March

Traverse Theatre Website


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