Social Husbandry Inc. Breeding a Brighter Society Since 2012

Sat 4th – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

Claire Dalling

at 09:21 on 8th Aug 2012

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The action seemed already to be in full swing when we entered The Space to see the intriguingly named ‘Social Husbandry Inc’, Green Stag Youth Theatre’s self-devised exploration of a dangerous totalitarianism regime in the year 2032. As I scrambled for my notebook and pen, chaos – albeit organised chaos – began to unfold around me, and it was this organised chaos that lay at the heart of the show’s message. This may not be the most original fable, but the energy and enthusiasm of the execution ensured that it remained fresh.

The basic premise is of a world in which people seen to be breaking society's rules are given pills to make them behave like children. The rest of the population also display many childlike qualities, as their minds seemed to be numbed by the unrelenting repetition of The Regime. Although the production had evidently been well rehearsed, it retained the spontaneity of improvisation. It became immediately obvious that this was a group of young people totally at ease and in sync with each other, so much so that the rapid group dialogue seemed completely natural. There was also absolutely no trace of limelight hogging, often a problem in theatre of this kind. The idea of inventing a show with nine other actors makes me feel slightly nauseous, but the play seemed organic. Moreover, I detected not the slightest hint of over-acting, which would have ruined the essential innocence of the characters. The play was an ensemble piece, and I got the distinct impression that it had been a team effort from start to finish.

As I said before, this is not a ‘new’ idea for a show, although there were some innovative details in the plot. However, the audience were left in suspense about these details for a little too long, and the preoccupation with mystery came at the price of real audience engagement. Some pleasing production touches woven throughout partly made up for this – the scene change music, for example, was a medley of ‘Mr Sandman’ and the hypnotic chimes of a baby mobile, separated by loud radio interference – but even these were repeated so often that they began to lose resonance. This could be seen as a portrayal of the repetitive lifestyle of 2032, but it struck me that they had simply run out of ideas.

The closing image of a group of people continuing to eat lunch and make small talk despite the fact that a corpse was lying at their feet was undeniably powerful and memorable, as were other aspects throughout the play. While ‘Social Husbandry Inc’ is hardly groundbreaking, it is a solid piece of youth drama, and not an unpleasant way to spend an hour.

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Daniel Malcolm

at 10:13 on 8th Aug 2012

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The elements of this Orwellian fantasy are familiar enough. Hallucinatory drugs (reminiscent of soma) and propaganda keep a cowering population subject to a rigid state-imposed routine. There is not, then, anything deeply conceptually original about this play. But the conventional Big Brother themes are, nevertheless, playfully varied.

For one thing, the sinister micro-management of an overbearing totalitarian state is innovatively combined with a Burton-esque fairy-tale horror. Subversive citizens are confined to a nursery where, with the aid of drug laced sweets, they are kept under the illusion that they are children. Good behaviour is inculcated through macabre children's stories, which come to have grotesque parallels in the real life of a naughty boy, ostrafanicized - an imaginative coinage that I'll leave to your imagination (aided in the production itself by the tinkling of a nursery music-box). Why such a nakedly ruthless state would go to such elaborate lengths to control its population is not entirely clear, but the paternalistic metaphor is powerful enough to go unchallenged.

The other great strength of the play is the skilful, cleverly timed unravelling of a normality that at first takes the audience in. Everything seems as it should be in playtime at the nursery apart from the size of the children - put down at first to the theatrical conceit of teenagers playing children. In fact the size of these child-adults is the only thing that isn't misleading. The familiarity of the office scene is equally deceptive. For the first couple of conversation repeats, you could mistake the tedium for an usually unimaginative work-lunch, where the boys get round to changing the colour of their ties but not their words. By the third time, the Stalinist claustrophobia has set in, as characters who at first seemed brain-dead are reveal to be morally-jaded survivors of the post-apocalypse - clinging to the safety of routine out of an instinct for self-preservation.

To offset this monolith monotony, the play called for a colourful rebel. Unfortunately, Oscar, the child-liberator hero, had the psychological simplicity of his brain-washed colleagues, as he made a rather a plodding journey from obsequious subordinate to shrilly outraged revolutionary. Although the role of naive do-gooder is played well, it needed more moral complexity to be convincing.

A big question for such a political play is its contemporary resonance. At times Social Husbandry Inc's straining for relevance was a little desperate. The origins of this authoritarian state are said to date back to a coup at the London Olympics orchestrated by the Rothschilds of all people (a bizarre gesture towards 19th-century conspiracy-theories that if anything undermined the credibility of the plot). Unsettling parallels rather than this all-too-obvious linking to the present would have made the play's clever twists - and well-constructed Orwellian state - more than just mildly disturbing.

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