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Plays by Berkoff and Arrabal
Published on Saturday, 28 May 2011

3.5 stars

The Lectern (venue website)
10-17, 22-30 May, 9:00pm-11:00pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.

This brand new local theatre company, Big Pants Theatre Production, have been the target of regrettable criticism this week – from their local councillor, no less, who accused them of snobbery in the Brighton Argus over their claim that they’re bringing culture to Moulsecoomb.  But they made a tasty meal of Picnic on the Battlefield, in a show at The Lectern which was sadly partaken of by only a few.

Performing a play by Arrabal – who, according to Wikipedia, is probably one of the most-performed living dramatic authors worldwide – they can hardly be described as inaccessible, to any audience.  The overall theme of the play has profound connotations – why do young boys of different nationalities fight one another, and what makes the fight more important than a Sunday afternoon family picnic? – but this is theatre of the absurd, and heavy contemplation is not the point.  It’s good ol’ comedy, light-hearted and fun, and you can enjoy it on as deep or as superficial a level as you prefer.  To underline the point, the ticket price includes a pint!

The cast do a fabulous job in character: soldier at the front, enemy soldier at the front, mum and dad making surprise visit to their son at the front, two stretcher bearers looking for work at the front… and a butterfly. While they almost all keel over by the end of the play, the spoils of their picnic leave no trace of doubt that they have enjoyed themselves: red checked tablecloth, picnic basket, cakes and sausage rolls, washed down with wine (probably warm).  The audience, too, has enjoyed some celebration, more engaged in the jollity than innocent bystanders.

The survivors of the bomb-hit scene are the stretcher-bearers, who earlier in the play tempted fate by complaining that they were short of work in the form of dead or injured bodies.  When they shamelessly feasted on rich pickings left over, this did not provoke any moral confusion – by now we were used to the idea that life is what you make of it, and there really is no pressure to pontificate on the rights and wrongs of a situation which are by no means carved in stone.

The company – and The Lectern who sponsor them – are to be applauded for bringing top class entertainment to the outskirts of Moulsecombe. It’s only a very short ride direct to The Lectern (the bus stops right outside the pub) from Brighton’s “cultural quarter”.  Venture out and enjoy!

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