If you’re lucky then, once or twice, you might see a production which knocks your socks off. This is one of those.
Fiji Land has nothing to do with a tropical idyll; its use is heavily ironic. Writer Nick Gill took the title from a statement made in 2007 by Ali Shalal, an Abu Graib detainee: Fiji Land was a moniker used by guards for a particular part of the prison.
We’re in a war zone, somewhere in the world. Its location is less important than its effects. Set in an anonymous containment unit, lined with white plastic sheeting from floor to ceiling, Fiji Land is a place of isolation, but not of silence. Max Pappenheim’s eerie industrial soundtrack startles and disturbs. It growls and menaces. Its siren shrieks.
This is one of many units on site. Here, soldier guards go off their heads, and detainees are tortured ‘to order’, but increasingly at will. Torture is not always medieval; it was alleged, as stories from Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay began to circulate, that the Barney the Dinosaur theme-tune, played at ear-splitting volume, was a method of choice.
In Alice Malin’s searing production, rows of pot plants are the inmates, and three soldiers the guards: Grainer (Jake Ferretti ) is new, and has asked to come to Fiji Land; Wolstead (Matthew Trevannion) likes to watch people while they sleep and take Polaroid photos. Tanc (Stephen Blisland) is there to see orders carried out ‘proper’. These orders include which plants get watered, depending on their row. Some get marked with a yellow cross. Some are taken away. Why? No one knows. Perhaps it’s ‘crusader shit’ after all. ‘Look. No-one cares. No-one cares what we do as long as we’re here, doing what we’re told.’ Wolstead puts Grainer right.
The trio of soldiers are superb. Dressed identically at the outset, they differentiate themselves by the simplest props, skilfully employed. Nothing is wasted: not one line carelessly delivered. We believe in how they come in: we’re appalled by how they go out. Malin extracts richness and subtlety from Gill’s sparse dialogue. The power of their dramatic characterisations held the audience spellbound.
Designer Ruth Hall’s ingenious set delivered a frightening believable world, however weird and weathered. Tom Wickens and Matthew Swithinbank’s lighting enhanced the teeth–grating authoritarian routine dictated elsewhere, and subtly enhanced the escalating emotions of Fiji Land.
In this ninety minute tour de force Gill neatly sidesteps our aversion to unvarnished reality. He makes us look anyway, no matter how much we want to turn away. ‘It seemed an interesting idea to up the surrealism and paranoia to include imprisoning non-sentient beings, and to see the effects that paranoia would have on their captors,’ Gill said in a recent interview.
It’s a tribute to this outstanding production, that when I saw the supposedly supervising soldier strike a long stemmed match and hold it beneath a defenceless leaf, I winced for the pot plant.