This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
Seven Soviet soldiers are stripped naked, locked in a basement, left to die and their survival depends upon the decisions they make. Set in Poland in 1944, this group of soldiers includes a misfit of a young and genial captain, an angry junior Lieutenant and a simple private. As the days go by, surviving only by licking the dew off the stone surfaces, there comes a time when the choice is to be made after one of them falls.
This story of survival and cannibalism is full of gore and short on most other things. Written by David Ian Lee, the characters are thinly painted and their relationships are unclear even until the end. The only character with more background information is Private Gerogi of Georgia. Even so, the description of his character is only based on the Soviet’s view of a Georgian stereotype which hardly describes his true personality. There are attempts to discuss the role of military command, friendship, religion and the philosophy of the situation but most are merely mentioned and not developed any further. The homoerotisism inherent is swiftly dealt with early on with some wrestling and jokes about sausages. The problem with the play in its attempt to get through the back stories of all seven soldiers and incorporate an intelligent discussion of the issues arising and cram in the passage of time in the ninety minutes running time is over ambition.
The production, directed by Joao de Sousa, is atmospheric, claustrophobic and does not flinch from the graphic nature of cannibalism. As the body count rises, so does the amount of blood, lengths of femur and heads rolling around. It takes a strong stomach to get through some of the scenes. The obliquely placed platform on stage marking out the footprint of their imprisoned room provides the sense of confinement while accommodating a drain for a much welcomed disposal point.
The acting is adequate but the sketchy nature of the characters means there is little scope for the actors to develop them. Matt Houston as Georgi has the best range for comedy and inner turmoil and Houston makes the most of it. Thomas Holloway is another whose role as the intellectually disabled Yuri is better defined and he does well.
This feels like an opportunity missed to explore the deeper questions of such a tragic and dark situation. This inaugural production of Stripped Down Productions is certainly not afraid to be bold, though the play itself leaves something to be desired.
Photo: Rebecca Pitt | Runs until 20th July, then in Edinburgh 30th July – 25th August