While the latter half of the 20th century had its fair share of social injustice and civil rights movements, the tempestuous preceding years set the wheels in motion for what was to come. During the reign of George V in Britain, there was the rise of socialism in the UK, of communism in Russia, fascism in Nazi Germany and the fight for the Irish Free State. Most people also know that in the days leading to the ‘November Revolution’ in Russia, his cousin Tsar Nicholas II and family weren’t allowed to enter Britain and were eventually executed. It goes without saying that in the early 20th century, tolerance for people who were ‘different’ or ‘the other’ was in short supply…
In Revenants – a new play by Nichola McAuliffe – several historical threads are brought together that deal with oppression in all its shapes and forms. Taking place in 1943, an unusual, disparate group meet to discuss what the world has been like, IS like and what’s to come. Representing the voice of experience there’s Queen Mary – former wife of George V and now the acting ‘Queen Mother’. Also representing ‘experience’ is the actor Ernest Thesiger. As well as being a fellow member of the aristocracy, he saw much action when he served in the military during the First World War. At a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence, he was also openly gay.
In contrast to ‘the Establishment’, two ‘men of colour’ have a very different outlook on the world ‘as it is’: Walcott – a British Jamaican chauffeur orphaned by the Kingston earthquake of 1907 and a Black GI who has faced segregation and torture, leading to thoughts of retribution.
The quartet are defined and confined by age, race, gender, sexuality and class – at a time when feminism didn’t exist, but racism and homophobia were rife. Decades later, others would pick up the baton to challange the status quo. However, for the people in the play, that knowledge is unavailable to them and no comfort against the respective ‘ghosts’ that haunt them. So what’s to be done..?
© Michael Davis 2018
Revenants runs in Edinburgh at Venue 23, Pleasance Dome – King Dome, 17:00, Aug 5-7, 9-14, 16-27 (1 hour 30 minutes)