Politics and the English Language – Take Three

BEA BOWLES-BRAY reviews Mountain Language, One for the Road, and The New World Order at Milton Court Studio.

A stone’s throw from The Gherkin, that iconic symbol of London’s financial district, a group of young actors don pinstripe suit and banker’s boot to stage a trio of Harold Pinter’s most politically charged plays. Directed by National Theatre and Royal Court veteran Jo McInnes, this production by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama bears testament to the heights that so-called ‘amateur dramatics’ can reach.

In 1947 George Orwell commented that ‘the English language is in a bad way’. He warned of the invasion of one’s mind by ‘ready-made phrases’, and how every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain. These three plays present the fulfilment of Orwell’s prophecy. In The New World Order two torturers (Josh Dylan and Akpore Uzoh) muse over the silent figure of a blindfolded man (Michael Golab) who has been apprehended for ‘questioning received ideas’. Mountain Language depicts a prison where regional ‘mountain’ dialects are suppressed in favour of an authorised ‘language of the capital’. And in One for the Road Nicholas (Paul Gorostidi) interrogates an imprisoned family using clichés which become increasingly foreboding; ‘honesty is the best policy’, ‘you’re on a losing wicket’, ‘one for the road’. I’ve since discovered that this last expression derives from the practise of offering condemned felons a final drink before their execution.

Photo credit: Clive Barda
Photo credit: Clive Barda

Condemning the repressive narrative of the administration, these plays are intelligently staged in the space between four imposing grey granite pillars. Just as ideas are shown to be constrained by the architecture of the powers that be, so too are our actors. Perhaps the most innovative element of this production, however, is the revisiting of extracts using different staging and actors. Villain and victim often switch roles and with each repositioning, the interrogation is focused more directly outwards at the audience. This production does not permit you to ponder the extinguishment of individual expression from the safe distance of the spectator.

Drenched in the political issues of their day, these plays aren’t the subtlest of Pinter’s works and the cast are courageous not to shy away from this. Calling a spade a spade, they speak exclusively in English, American and Eastern Bloc accents, and the prison guards in Mountain Language wear Russian ‘ushanka’ hats. Before anyone has flashbacks to Anne Hathaway’s shambolic Yorkshire accent in the feature film One Day, have no fear; all inflections and pronunciations are present and correct. Josh Dylan particularly stands out as an Americanised Des in The New World Order.

Watching these plays in their underground setting in the City creates a powerful impression and is the product of powerful acting. Expect to leave with a dose of Pinterean fire in your belly and a desire to brush up on international relations in the eighties.

‘Mountain Language’, ‘One for the Road’, and ‘The New World Order’ were presented by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as part of their season at the Milton Court Studio. For more information visit http://www.gsmd.ac.uk/about/view_all_events/