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The American Pilot

Something terrible and wonderful has fallen from the sky - what will the pragmatist, the romantic, and the revolutionary do?
North Wall Arts Centre, 28 - 31 Oct 2009

October 29, 2009
The Oxford Theatre Guild have taken on a modern, ambitious play to start their autumn season. The American Pilot, first commissioned for and performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2005, tells the story of a small community in which an unexpected and unwanted event occurs which will change it forever. A wounded American pilot is found and given shelter: once there, this accidental representative of a foreign power cannot be pretended away. The setting is not clear but it could be any one of the many countries plagued by internal strife today where a rebel army is fighting a (probably) corrupt government. Nothing is absolute: America is a hated power but its culture pervades the local media; the Captain has been fighting for 35 years but he does not believe they can win and expects to die a miserable death; the Translator believes in blood and revenge but killing or hurting someone makes him vomit.

The male characters are named after their jobs – Farmer, Translator, Captain, Trader – and sometimes that is all we know about them. They are representative rather than real. Evie stands out as someone different, caught between her world and a world of dreams. The ‘locals’ take it in turns to give a short monologue before each scene: in the first half this adds colour and tone to the story, but in the second half these monologues foreshadow events in a deliberately misleading way. Particularly to be recommended is Bob Booth as the world-weary Captain, who has lost the enthusiasm of his youth; Nick Gale, too, is a realistically cynical Trader and Audrina Oakes-Cottrell makes a convincing 16-year-old Evie, whose youthful ardour manages to break through the Captain’s indifference, fill him with an unlikely dream and ultimately bring the play to an unexpected and dramatic end. The set worked very well as a backdrop to events.

The play has some wonderfully lyrical moments, starting with the first monologue, and the foreshadowing technique is highly effective, but sometimes the play fails to deliver its promise and you are left wishing that more could have been said. There are moments of humour (watch out for Daffy Duck!) but more could have been made of the translations; that they could be both amusing as well as dangerous when mistranslated is touched upon, but this is a rich seam that the play does not exploit to the full. Nevertheless, this is a topical, thought-provoking play which is well-worth seeing.
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