Guillermo Calderón’s B has an intimate feeling intermingled with an alternative, indie style of live production. Extreme activists Marcela (Aimée-Ffion Edwards) and Alejandra (Danusia Samal) chat with a millennial attitude; dry humour and wit draw out the comedy in Sam Pritchard’s production. It pauses awkwardly yet intentionally, peppered with sharp, monosyllabic grunts and statements of the obvious. The feeling is fresh and new, exactly the reputation that the Royal Court has gleaned for itself.
Enter José Miguel (Paul Kaye), the expert in making the cheese (or the cow, as it is sometimes called). The package is neither cheese nor cow, but to say its actual name out loud is to invite some version of superstitious smiting. Calderón’s B has a distinctly atheist yet spiritualist feel, just one of the dichotomies that Pritchard capitalises on with accented, disjointed effect.
The makeshift wooden box of Chloe Lamford’s set adds to the feeling of DIY destruction, a shady transaction that is never quite completed to mutual satisfaction. Samal and Edwards are uncertain about protesting, rallying against the system without us ever really finding out why. Kaye acts aloof at first, but there is always the feeling that he has an ulterior motive, a reason for making the cheese that goes beyond a simple business proposal. He is confident and cagey, a magnetic combination made all the more elusive by the t-shirt that covers his face for most of the show. Samal and Edwards both quickly shed their masks, less concerned about being discovered. They’re the naïve anarchists, privileged from their upbringing and seemingly superficial in their desire to enact true change.
Only they’re not superficial, layered in motivations that are revealed once B scratches past the surface. Just as the cheese is disguised as a present and the meeting is covered up by a birthday party, so too are the young protesters’ reasons for pandemonium shielded behind more sinister revelations. According to nosey neighbour Carmen (Sarah Niles), intelligence is trapping – here is another character who appears bat-shit crazy but has much more lurking beneath the surface. Surface tension is a theme in B, the idea that everyone conceals more than they let on. Pritchard uses unease to stir up intrigue throughout.
The overall narrative feeling of B is one of swaying between uncertain comedy and poignant passionate politicism. Calderón takes us on a journey through the real reasons for such unhappiness in the status quo, before bringing us out the other side with a kooky twist of fate. It’s a beautiful arc that is set to resolve cyclically. Except it doesn’t quite join back on itself – the stylised ending, the opening of the present, is conceptually disconnected from the rest of B. The show suddenly swings into the abstract, unexpected and unfulfilling. After Niles finally reveals her truth with a gorgeous bluntness, the final minutes feel disingenuous and incongruous.
B is a working-class revolution, delivered by characters with middle class privilege; it’s a rebellion without the want for any fall-out; it’s stylised and simple. Calderón throws us a script that is rarely seen in British theatre, antithetical and yet in sync with contemporary work. Pritchard’s realisation continues to ask us questions, requiring us to provide response without revealing the actual answer. Every character has light and shade, hidden secrets that they cover with blunt, open dialogue. It’s a conundrum of a show that entices us right up until the very end.
Director: Sam Pritchard
Writer: Guillermo Calderón
Adaptor: William Gregory
Composer: Teho Teardo
Design: Chloe Lamford; Lizzie Powell (lighting); Gareth Fry (sound)
Cast: Aimée-Ffion Edwards; Paul Kaye; Sarah Niles; Danusia Samal
Images courtesy of Helen Murray
B plays the Royal Court until 21 October 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.