Directly before being ushered into the auditorium of the Pilch Studio to watch Four Lions, my eyes caught a notice listing of warnings of the play’s sensitive content: explosions, violence, swearing. I primed myself immediately to experience a play the uneasy themes of Chris Morris’ play, adapted from his screenplay of the same title.
The play opens to a series of projections onto the Pilch’s back wall: a woman paces anxiously with a gun. This nicely sets the tone for the violent and war-torn play that follows. Projection is used cleverly throughout the play to evoke different environments, with shots from surveillance cameras used in another scene to create the claustrophic atmosphere of a police interrogation unit.
Four Lions is a play whose exploration of extremism feel painfull relevant today: Morris’s script following the backstory of four terrorists planning an attack. Directors Adham Smart and Johnny Lucas have succeeded in crafting the environment of a back-alley street gang, aided by Set Designer Molly Nickson’s set strewn with discarded boxes, which the actors pick up and incorporate throughout the show. The highest commendation is due to the cast however, each of whom expertly navigate a fine balance between the play’s serious issues and moments of surprising comedy. As the play professes itself on its website, this is a ‘goofy satire on terrorism’. I enjoyed the use a card-board cut out van: despite Morris’ intense narrative, this offers comic relief and contributes to a carnival environment. Clever staging techniques such as this one are used throughout the production.
I was impressed by the show’s deft discussion of the tricky topic of terrorism. In one scene a character, seemingly from an English University airs his own views of the matter, highlighting poignantly the differences between our perceptions of terrorism, its presentation in mainstream culture, and then the reality. This latter was brought vividly home to the show’s audience cast-members become police patrolling the audience and directing their guns our way.
Every actor onstage has evidently done their research, dealing with topics and responding to a foreign language with sensitivity. Further projections on the back wall are a neat solution to the problem of ensuring the audience understand passages delivered in Urdu. The true success of this production, however, is the skill with which it subtly blends gritty realism into softer scenes at the end of the play. Ultimately, the show ends on a reflective, and not purely violent tone.