Gagarin Way (2009)
Directed by Anton Krause
Eddie and Gary, two Fife factory workers, plan to kidnap and murder the Japanese envoy of their company’s new multi-national owners, as a political gesture. Killing time by discussing Sartre and Genet, 20th century political and economic history and the appeal of recreational violence, their plans soon go awry when Tom the security guard turns up to collect his hat and Frank, their unwitting victim, turns out to be considerably less Japanese than anticipated.
Premiering at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 2001 and moving to the National Theatre “Gregory Burke's blistering, brilliant, crazily confident first play (Guardian)” is in turns darkly hilarious and shockingly violent.
When I first saw this at The National I thought it was one of the funniest plays I had ever seen and I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into some comedy again. Be warned however that it contains very strong language and is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.
Eddie: Early thirties. A Fife factory worker whose dead-end job and propensity for recreational violence sit unhappily with his wit, intelligence and knowledge of philosophy and political history. But then, as he says ‘It’s amazing what you can day with a library ticket’
Gary: Late thirties – forties. A Fife factory worker, ex-shop steward and would-be political activist. Fed-up of dealing with disputes over pay and overtime he ‘really wanted tay be out there blowing something up’. Stuck in a loveless marriage and having to work three jobs to make ends meet, this abduction serves as a way out – the first thing he’s had to be excited about for years.
Tom: Early twenties. A young graduate, working as a security guard before ‘launching himself into the employment stratosphere’, he takes a bribe from Eddie and Gary to let them into the factory at night thinking they are just stealing computer chips. When he finds himself involved in kidnapping and murder he tries to convince Eddie and Gary that there are alternatives to violence. If only he hadn’t gone back for his hat.
Frank: Fifties. Himself a Fife man, Frank has been living in Surrey for most of his life and has largely lost his accent, although this re-emerges in times of stress. A successful consultant for the multi-national company that owns the factory, his planned fact-finding visit is inconvenienced by his kidnapping and impending death.
Anton Krause Director
- PA / Stage Manager - Paula Kelly
- Lighting Design - Neil Carmichael
- Operator - Anton Krause
- Programme / poster design - Maria Bates
- Photography - Mark Davies
Gagarin Way (SLT) reviewed by Mark Campbell for The Kentish Times
The South London Theatre’s enviable reputation for staging edgy contemporary dramas continues unabated with their recent production of Gagarin Way by Gregory Burke, writes Mark Campbell.
Warning that the play’s language “would make David Mamet blush”, Burke’s debut script gleefully exposes the profanity-filled lives of two wannabe anarchists working in a Fife computer-chip factory at the beginning of the century.
But their plan to kidnap and murder one of the company’s fat cat Japanese bosses goes hideously awry when a security guard accidentally stumbles on the crime.
The plot owes something to Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play Rope, in which two men murder a friend in a Nietzschean pact - just because they can.
Eddie is the play’s chief antagonist, a muscled young worker whose boyish good looks serve to hide a raging amorality. Played with obvious menace by Charles Doyle, he stalks the theatre’s small Prompt Corner studio like a predatory caged animal.
His co-worker Gary (Matthew Lyne) is older and more cautious, a slightly simple figure in a Russian greatcoat whose hand-me-down political aspirations mark him out as the more exploitable of the two.
Tom is the likeable security guard, a lanky figure in shapeless sweater and oversize hat whose bumbling ways and easy-going temperament (think Stephen Merchant from Extras) soon spell out his doom. Chris Learmonth’s acting here is top-notch. His naturalistic performance is genuinely touching and he is arguably the most full-rounded character of the evening.
Diametrically opposite is Frank, a Fife-born businessman who is certainly not Japanese. And here director Anton Krause - who otherwise does a brilliant job - unwittingly emphasised the play’s only real flaw. Dermot Boyle plays Frank as a cliched ‘80s businessman whose over-emphatic (and strangely monotonous) delivery really doesn’t ring true. He reminded me of the hard-drinking executive played by Stephen Fry in the TV series A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
That aside, this 90-minute interval-lite production is a very impressive achievement. The Scots accents are both authentic and comprehensible, and the bloodbath ending - veering from slapstick to full-on horror - is properly shocking.
Reminiscences and Anecdotes
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I couldn't resist a wee visit to the real Gagarin Way, in the wee town of Lumphinnans, near Cowdenbeath, Fife, Scotland.
It's just like it's described in the play :
Gary - "It was one of the Little Moscows. One of the most radical places in Britain in the twenties and thirties. A place in Wales. Mardy. And Lumphinnans."
Eddie - "Little f###ing Moscow . . . Lumphinnans. (Beat) Mind you . . . nothing in the shops . . . crime . . . suppose it's quite like Moscow."
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