Headlong Theatre is responsible for some of the most iconic theatre in the last decade, ‘Chimerica’ and ‘People, Places and Things’ being their most eminent recent works. Meek comes as Headlong’s latest production in collaboration with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Whilst this production had an impressive reputation to live up to, Meek packed an intense punch that so distinctly reminded me of Headlong’s craftsmanship.
It’s difficult, and seems somewhat unfair, to boil Meek down into a simple plot line and theme; it is so steeped in huge moral dilemmas and political implications that face our current society. At the heart of it, our protagonist, Irene, has been convicted of performing a sacrilegious song and unintentionally inspires a revolution in reaction to this fanatical dictatorship (think Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tail). On a personal level, we see the conflict this causes between her and her best friend, Anna, in a realistic and unique portrayal of female friendship that keeps shocking us until the very last moment.
Yet, through combining so many huge ideas, a distinct feeling of tension, dissonance and incongruity is created. Director Amy Hodge made this apparent in every aspect of the production, from the battle of the secular and fanatically religious to the contrast in the actors’ movement within a claustrophobic space. The intense feeling of uneasiness this created really forced us to look into our own politics and principles, and confront the possibility that this play presented only an exaggerated version of our own society.
The design of this show by Max Jones and Zoe Spurr (lighting), deserves its own special mention. The set was unrelentingly grey and authoritarian, made up of simple grey blocks and walls, with one cross engraved into a wall, that seared with light, blinding us with the wrath of this religious regime. Rarely have I seen a set that so indisputably conveyed a sense of the time, place and ethos of the society the play exists in.
Betrayal, pride, shame, social media, radicalism, diplomacy, even Brexit – after only 65 minutes and a cast of three, all these themes were on the tip of my tongue in the aftermath of this production. Penelope Skinner has written, in my opinion, something of an era-defining text and the performances by Shvorne Marks, Amanda Wright and Scarlett Brookes were commendable in their roles, drawing out all the potential of this production.