Theatre in Wales

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Theatre As Moral Probe of Public Action

Essential Theatre

The Mistake- Michael Mears and Riko Nakazono , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , September 14, 2023
Essential Theatre by The Mistake- Michael Mears and Riko Nakazono “The Mistake” follows “This Evil Thing” from Essential Theatre and connects both thematically and personally for Michael Mears.

The earlier production was a kaleidoscopic view of the conscientious objectors of the First World War. The new play, in genesis for many years, moves forward in time to the terrible denouement of the Second World War.

It is energetically powered by scenes that play in apposition across decades and continents. Fermi, Einstein, Roosevelt, James Byrnes and others feature but the play centres around a trio of characters in high contrast.

The central tension is that of mind and body. Leo Szilard is a refugee from Europe, his escape first to London then to Chicago effected a day before it was made impossible. His research is the human intellect at the boundaries of theoretical exploration. On the ground Riko Nakasono's Shigeko Nomura, an apparent survivor, is witness to the fragilities of the human form. The third part of the triangle is Colonel Paul Tibbets, pilot of the aircraft on 5th August 1945.

Szilard is a figure of ambiguity. The theoretical begetter of the chain reaction he becomes object of suspicion by General Groves of the Manhattan Project. His deepest fear is that Germany is as advanced in its research. With the surrender in Europe of 8th May 1945 he is opposed to nuclear deployment in the Asian war. Later in life remarkably he was hosted for an extensive meeting with Khrushkev

All writing comes alive in the stuff of detail. The effects of the fireball were described by John Hersey in his same-year account “Hiroshima.” The horror on the human body is difficult to read and as hard to hear spoken eight decades on.

Tibbets is alarmed that the population below is not within their air raid shelters. Nomura explains that with so many false alarms for the city spared to date the precaution is no longer applied. In the air Tibbets has been told by Oppenheimer that he has 40-42 seconds after release to escape the plane's own destruction. The manoeuvre required is a 115-degree turn to ride the shock wave outward.

The design for “the Mistake” travels lightly but cleverly. A few graphics, a three-stepped ladder, a miniature aeroplane, a change of jacket, a face mask, a flying helmet take the audience across time and space. Szilard in a fire of inspiration uses chalk and blackboard to eliminate the candidates to make his theory real. One by one possible elements are rejected until he arrives at Uranium-235. The blackboard's last duty is to be turned to become the wing-span of the Enola Gay.

Touring theatre has been thin on the ground, and little satisfying, since the end of the pandemic. Gratitude is due to Essential Theatre for performing in venues of Wales from north to south. Theatre needs many hands and many voices to come into being and the programme's acknowledgments are fulsome. Arts Council support was not forthcoming. The Lansbury House Trust Fund took its place as principal supporter for the tour. George Lansbury, a figure of great virtue, took the leadership of the Labour party after the disaster of 1931.

History is not there to lie easy. The European and Pacific wars ended differently. Whereas the defeated nation in Europe was reformed territorially and constitutionally Asia continues with disputed territory and unsettled peace treaties. As late as 2007 Nobel prize-winner Kenzaburō Ōe contested to much controversy the view of the national government about the campaign in Okinawa. Although not mentioned in the dialectic of “the Mistake” Okinawa was central to the policy of fast and utmost cruel ending to the war.

This is theatre deployed as a moral probe of political action. It is a strand of theatre that is necessary, and little valued in Wales, but does not function as arbiter of rightness or wrongness. It is the making of public space, driven by the force of human presence, to open windows that look onto worlds beyond those of the private concerns that absorb our usual hours. One of the best of London critics has seen “the Mistake.” Clive Davis wrote as good as an epitaph as there might be: “the past came alive.”

“This Evil Thing” is reviewed on the link below.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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