The Jack Studio Theatre's Write Now 3 festival of new writing ends with Borderland, Carol Vine's dystopian new play about a Britain where class conflict has erupted into full-blown warfare. Gritty and unforgiving, the piece achieves a grim naturalistic tone but fails to develop its brave new world into a constructive whole.
The piece opens with Lucy, a young girl with dreams of escape, looking for things to loot in an abandoned estate. She discovers David, an old man waiting for a carer who will never come, but their meeting sparks a sad chain of events involving her boyfriend Darren, who has returned home from an unspecified war, Darren's parents Ben and Vivian, and his streetwise friend Tray.
The main issue with the piece is a lack of specificity. The scenes are generally well constructed and there are individual moments that ring true, for example Darren's parents' disgust at what he may or may not have done during the war – but we don't know which war it is. Is this an allusion to an ongoing, ever-expanding Middle-Eastern conflict? Without any idea of what Darren has done or where he's been (beyond 'at war'), it's difficult to truly empathise or comprehend what this has done to him. Where there are specifics, they have a tendency to cut cruelly (Darren mentions shooting a child with a mobile phone, claiming they are "ten times more damaging than a gun", a prescient thought), but it needs a little more – most fiction that builds a wholly new world uses a naïve narrator or something similar to lead the audience in, and a similar device would have been fantastic here, maybe future radio broadcasts in the scene changes or something similar. Without this, certain references (for example, veiled lines about owning a car, which generally seemed to be something bad) don't have any impact, and confuse, rather than explain, what is going on.
Without much knowledge of the world we are seeing, it is thus quite difficult to follow the plot. Why Lucy has to prostitute herself (in a very well-performed yet uncomfortable scene featuring a cameo from an excellent Dan March) may be irrelevant to the horror of this act, but it did mean that I have no idea what the stakes are and why she would stoop to such lows. Also, the script avoided scenes of extreme violence in favour of descriptions after the fact, possibly due to budget or staging concerns, meaning that this brutal new world doesn't seem quite as dark and dangerous as Vine may have wanted it to be.
Conceptual issues aside, the play is performed generally well. Kirstie Brough is fine as Lucy, but doesn't seem to find much more than a scowl to define her character. Similarly, Kevin Leslie and Vincent Williams are decidedly one note, although there are some pleasantly subtle and more in-depth performances from Betty Benjamin and John Paton as Darren's parents. The set reminds more of 28 Days Later than anything else, which seems a good stylistic model to follow, but again wasn't specific enough – change of place isn't clear enough between scenes, although there seemed to be some vague lighting prompts that, again, didn't clarify so much as confound further.
As new writing goes, this piece definitely holds promise – something that we have said about the other pieces in Write Now 3, and maybe holds the most important point of this festival, although I would argue that the results should be more polished. Borderland is definitely just a few edits away from being a really exciting piece of new writing for a disenfranchised young adult population, but as it stands, it's just a bit too vague – and the concept might be more fitting to be filmed than staged, allowing for the action and world-building that would have given it such much-needed edge.