One of them is waterboarded live. Another, sexually abused onstage. Several are forced into a pyramid, then sent clattering to the floor. If you though fringe theatre’s actors had a hard time – spare a thought for its pot plants.
The conceit behind Nick Gill’s play – and it is a conceit – is to replace human prisoners with horticultural ones and play out an array of iconic human-rights abuses throughout history upon them. Some go without water. Others are carted off to ovens outside. One is torn from its bed and left for dead on the floor.
Gill makes abuse absurd, largely by removing its shock and agony. The result is agit-prop theatre with little agitation. Though the images are bizarre, ‘Fiji Land’s’ point remains bald, even if it prises open a new perspective.
Instead of an internment camp, we see a nursery; its ‘prisoners’ helpless and entirely reliant on the three hired guards that feed them at each shrill alarm. It’s precisely that lopsided relationship and their dehumanised status that lets abuse creep in.
Gill doesn’t blame the individual guards. Two are so disorientated they occupy different weather-systems: one shivering, the other sweat-sodden. Yet, he doesn’t blame a callous, reticent system alone. One rogue guard unleashes plant hell. Is he following orders or making up his own?
‘Fiji Land’ is nearer to an extended sketch than a full play. It lacks narrative development and the ability to surprise, working instead by gradually stretching its surrealist images to their max. Yet, it’s an intriguing proposition, a riddle to solve with echoes of Harold Pinter’s ‘The Hothouse’, if none of that play’s explosiveness.
Still, director Alice Malin draws strong performances – simultaneously macho and jovial – all round, from Jake Ferretti, Stephen Bisland and Matthew Trevannion, while Max Pappenheim’s head-fucky soundscape is absolutely first-rate.
By Matt Trueman