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This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/shoot-i-didnt-mean-thatthe-last-days-of-mankind-tristian-bates-theatre-london/

Time Zone Theatre brings this collaboration between British playwrights and Austrian director Pamela Schermann and presents this double bill marking the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. Out of over one hundred expressions of interest, the end result is a new comedy Shoot, I Didn’t Mean That written by Catriona Kerridge as a companion and response to Karl Kraus’ The Last Days of Mankind.

Shoot, I Didn’t Mean That tells three separate stories: a British tourist in Vienna who involuntarily shouted ‘Sieg Heil’ and did a Nazi Salute, found herself in a prison and unable to lower her arm from the salute; an interpreter at an intergovernmental tribunal/organisation beginning to be affected by the content of the discussion and becoming increasingly unhinged; two school girls planning to join one of the war zones, set their sights on Syria and begin planning and training from a locked classroom at their school.

There is a comic absurdity about these three stories and the direction and intention of them take a while to filter through the set up. It is not badly written but the attempt to weave a story around the central message is clunky, thereby devaluing the final message.

Then comes the extract of a new translation of The Last Days of Mankind by Edward Timms and Fred Bridgham. It delivers a series of short scenes with strong imagery of the First World War played through soldiers, journalists and allegorical hyenas. This section is where director Pamela Schermann really comes into her own. This fast paced, at times mesmerising pastiche projects the chaos of war to the audience and the rhyming verses are particularly effective. It also ties in with and reflects upon the first play and points to the First World War as the beginning of a century of conflicts. The roots of the issues raised previously are now put into a historical context, however tenuous, but the sentiment is here.

Emily Bairstow stands out from the cast of four as the interpreter who goes off script. While Alexine Lafaber is to be praised for her stamina in keeping her right arm up for an hour and projecting well her outgoing innocence and her doubts as to the source of her plight.

These are certainly contrasting pieces and perhaps too different for a coherent double bill despite the thematic links. The slower and comedic first piece feels slack in comparison to the tight but less coherent second piece. Though the effort, the concept  and the attempt to draw the two works together should be applauded.

Photo Robert Piwko

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