Building the Wall
Reviewed – 4th May 2018
“fearlessly addresses the concerns of the Trump-era presidency with chilling historical references”
In a prison interrogation room in 2019, Rick has one chance to tell reporter Gloria his side of the story. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Time Square, the American president orders a “round up”: the mass deportation of immigrants. When other countries refuse to engage in this scheme of ‘repatriation’, the number of detainees sky rockets and America is running out of places to put them. In the middle of all this is Rick. Rick runs a detainee prison. He is dealing with overcrowding, cholera, a heat wave and now governmental pressure. Months later, he is in prison himself, the President has been impeached and we are about to find out why. Bravely set only a stone’s throw into the future (although written in 2016), Robert Schenkkan’s dystopian narrative is a sinister vision of the possible consequences of a violent anti-immigration governmental stance, and begs the question: is it a crime to follow orders?
Jez Bond directs the UK premiere of ‘Building the Wall’ flawlessly. We watch the interview through the glass of an interrogation room (designed by Sarah Beaton). The room itself is bright white, bare apart from the obvious table and chairs, a water dispenser and a black mirror/window set into the wall. The sound (Theo Holloway) and lighting (Sally Ferguson) design are detailed and intelligent. We can only hear the characters speak when Gloria’s sound recorder is on, and the interview is underscored by sounds of violence from the prison, reminding the audience of what Rick’s everyday has become. As the play begins, long white ceiling lights flicker off, section by section.
Angela Griffin plays the African American academic, the only person Rick has granted access to. Trevor White plays Rick. Both are infinitely believable and I cannot fault their performances, but the characters themselves lack a certain level of depth and complexity. There is very little tension between them, meaning the ‘thriller’ element that the play defines itself with is missing, and the characters often serve as vehicles for the narrative. We do get a small amount of insight into Gloria’s life, her experiences of racism at an early age for example. Schenkkan also positions Rick as a cog within the system despite his differentiation between “the illegals” and “real Americans”, which adds some nuance to his character. However, given the structure of the play, their predominant function is to push the plot forwards and they have little development of their own.
Despite this, ‘Building the Wall’ is an intensely thought-provoking play, that fearlessly addresses the concerns of the Trump-era presidency with chilling historical references – a warning that must be heeded internationally. It is a brazenly political play that succeeds in delivering a message that needs to be heard. Whilst the characters are at points reduced to narrative vehicles, Griffin and White deliver competent and convincing performances, and the production is slick and well-done.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Mark Douet
Building the Wall
Park Theatre until 2nd June
Previously reviewed at this venue