Kieran Hurley’s An Injury is unsettling from the start, as the four performers walk on to the set deliberately looking around to catch the audience’s eye. This sets the tone for a play whose aim is to remind us of our own complicity in the violence that increasingly dominates our everyday world – whether that violence is happening right in front of us or on the other side of the world, and whether we’re participants or merely observers.
This is the story of four characters – three of them living in the same anonymous city, the other in a foreign country. Writer Danny is desperately trying to make his mark by writing something revolutionary. Joe’s a drone pilot haunted by a small figure he saw running towards the target seconds before his last missile hit. Morvern longs to escape her temp job inputting the names of rejected asylum seekers. And then there’s Isma, a young girl in a far-off country – and that’s all we know about Isma. As the four characters’ stories begin to intersect, the actors take turns playing them, reinforcing the idea that these people could be any one of us. Meanwhile the others narrate for our benefit, never allowing us to forget that we’re in a theatre and there are lessons to be learnt. As we build towards a dramatic climax, it seems inevitable that one of the characters must take action against the status quo… but will they, or will they simply continue in their numb acceptance of the way things are?
The delivery of the play, which is directed by alex swift – who previously collaborated with Kieran Hurley on Heads Up – is unusual, disorientating and potentially divisive. The production has an unpolished feel in both performance and design; all four actors read from their scripts, although it’s never completely clear if this is from necessity or if it’s just another way to remind us we’re watching a piece of theatre. The only other props are four chairs, which are rearranged as each new scene is introduced by a burst of white noise and an instruction to “zoom in” or “zoom out”. This simplicity of design means our attention is entirely focused on the script, which describes in detail everything we can’t see or hear, and is delivered with passion and real anger by the cast (Khalid Abdalla, Julia Taudevin, Yusra Warsama and Alex Austin). But the lack of variety in scenes also makes the piece hard to define – it falls somewhere between a play and a lecture, with the actors frequently breaking the fourth wall to challenge us directly about our own response to what we’re seeing.
Hurley’s script is undoubtedly thought-provoking, asking some brutal and highly topical questions about ends and means, which linger in the mind as we step back into the real world. There’s so much to consider, and delivered at such a rapid-fire pace, that it’s almost impossible to take it all in at a single hit. An Injury is a call to action – although what action we’re being invited to take remains unclear; the only truly unforgivable response to the play, it seems, is continued apathy.
An Injury is at Ovalhouse until 22nd July.