What does the modern man and woman believe in: politics, God, themselves? None of the above? What happens in a world devoid of belief?
Belief is the cornerstone of Mike Bartlett’s 13, which features separate story lines that interconnect through John, a young man who suddenly reappears after friends thought him long dead. When John charismatically begins to speak of the need for a rebirth, of belief and hope, he begins to attract and baffle those around him who are scrambling to find some understanding of themselves in our 21st century world.
…crammed with every bit of what’s wrong with our world…
Bartlett’s play in no way beats around the bush – dynamite issues such as war, God and politics, branching out to include unemployment, university cuts, prostitution, suicide, morality and ethics, revolution, loss of belief, and impending Armageddon are all thrown at the audience. For each side argued, the opposite perspective is always present, which climaxes into an impressive debate between John (Trystan Gravelle) and the atheist professor Stephen (Danny Webb), in the second act.
The inclusion of all points of view should not be condemned, however, not long into the first act it gives the performance a tiring see-saw effect, as the dialogue repeatedly swings from one side to the other. It is assumed that Bartlett’s aim is to provoke his audience to directly face these issues, but the more it unravels the more the play becomes less of a thought-provoking dramatic piece, and instead takes on the tone of a bad lecture, crammed with every bit of what’s wrong with our world without presenting anything new.
…an intensity that will keep audiences engaged…
Yet 13’s most damaging factor is its characters. With the disappointing lack of character development, you do not find yourself rooting for or sympathising with any particular character. They cross the stage with the two-dimensionality of cardboard cut-outs. Part of the problem is that there are too many characters – 24, to be exact. Names are hard to remember and none of the characters are given personal voices, instead they become mouthpieces to broadcast the play’s plethora of clamoring issues. The confrontations between sets of characters are mostly weak and unfounded.
Nonetheless, 13 does manage to generate an intensity that will keep audiences engaged throughout its running time of two hours and forty-five minutes. It leaves you disturbed at today’s world and hopeful that in the near future the violence that has characterised the last few years will somehow be overcome. However, the writers’ mantra “show, don’t tell” while perhaps clichéd, should never be forgotten.
The production is running at the National Theatre until January 8 2012
Tickets from £12
Image courtesy of 13