Terra Firma: Etcetera Theatre - Review

Stars or Mars

The phrase Terra Firma conjures up feelings of safety and security; it evokes the sense of being at home, on firm and familiar ground. However, in Susan Gray’s play, the audience never once feels safe or settled. Civilisation on earth has collapsed and humanity is divided into ‘the chosen’, who have fled earth on a fleet of shuttle aircrafts, and ‘the left’, who struggle to survive and adapt to life on a decaying planet. The government has fallen from power and in its place, a whole new set of values under a new authority prevails. The whole play is set up as a television programme; the people who have left their planet behind continue to watch the remaining community in their new environment.

Gray’s play reflects an intense frustration with the current political system by transporting the audience forward into a future where this dissatisfaction has reached breaking point. The line ‘with those empty phrases you could be a politician’ vocalises the play’s insistence that the whole structure of life on earth is so firmly rooted in a stagnant and ineffectual loophole that it must be entirely replaced; indeed, not only the government, but the whole planet is left behind in order to start afresh.

The remaining people left on earth have to redefine themselves and their relationships in an entirely new social context: class, career status and property become entirely meaningless in the face of chaos and disorder. Affluence is redefined, for ‘nothing belongs to anyone’. The surviving community on earth all react in different ways to their new environment and the married couple, Rachel and Matthew Woods both represent two sides of the spectrum.

At the beginning of the play, Rachel is uninterested in moving on and adjusting to this new way of life. She does not leave the house, perhaps in an attempt to cling on to her former self that occupied that same space. Her husband, Matt, is much more forward thinking, going outside to meet the people who are left, and attempting to lay down plans for survival. He notes a ‘draught of community’, and stresses the need to ‘change, to set up camp, combine strengths’.

However, the roles are reversed after Rachel kicks Matt out after the two have a row. ‘Old Rach is gone’, she realises. Rachel has an affair with an old aquaintance Sam, although this is short lived; in the end, she recognises that she does not need a man to help her get out of her desperate situation. While Sam is still asleep, she contacts the extraterrestrial community via a ‘tablet’ and begs to be rescued, specifically stating, ‘I am representing myself today, Rachel Andrews, not Rachel Woods. I’m speaking as me, as a person, not as Matt’s wife.’ Perhaps the new existence outside of earth offers the possibility of a breakdown of conventional gender roles, although this was a trick missed, as the play did not develop the idea further.

Perhaps the other main flaw was the lack of clarity about what the requirements for the ‘chosen’ actually consisted of. Not only this, but there was no real sense of what the reasons for leaving earth behind were, or what the values of the new planet promised. The scenes on the shuttle were constructed as a film set, with a ‘chosen’ man and woman being interviewed about their experience for the camera by an overhead recorded voice. The fact that the whole play was set up as a television programme was an interesting spin, as it brought up ideas about the ongoing revelations concerning the extent of the surveillance state. Does authority have a right to interfere into the personal lives of individuals and if so, to what extent? The overhead voice states that ‘sight is a privilege’, to which Rachel replies, ‘so is privacy’. The play is perhaps also a comment on the futility of reality television; why is it so popular in our culture? What do we gain from it and where does empathy come in to it? Do the people on the screen become so detached from normal human beings that we no longer feel guilty that we are entertained at their expense?

The scene on the shuttle is repeated twice, representing two camera takes; the repeated scene is exactly the same as the first, minus the mistakes and with more fluid line delivery. Opening with ‘how do you feel today?’ and the response ‘no need to ask’, accompanied by fake camera smiles and the actors turning towards different ‘cameras’ to deliver their lines, the ‘chosen’ man and woman seem to be merely puppets in the extraterrestrial game show, and loose all sense of identity or autonomy. This inhumane and forced set up seems to suggest that there is no hopeful alternative to the destruction of the planet earth: both worlds are overcome with dystopia and human dissatisfaction. It also implies that without authority, there is anarchy, yet with authority, there is inevitably brainwashing and loss of individuality.

(C) Georgia Rose 2014.

Stars Or Mars
Terra Firma
Etcetera Theatre
Camden Fringe
18-20th August

Twitter: @StarsorMars @EtceteraTheatre @CamdenFringe

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