The Lyceum’s gone all immersive! This apart from anything else is exciting: front of house is all decked out with sandbags and suitcases, the auditorium dressed up with banners and paraphernalia. There are ladders, trapdoors, audience seating on the stage. It’s all terribly thrilling.
Cockpit is set at the end of World War II, in a German theatre that’s been temporarily repurposed to house refugees. We in the audience are addressed as those refugees, and the cast are dotted around the theatre, in the wings, the orchestra pit, hanging off the balconies – don’t worry, there’s no audience participation here, just an unusual use of the whole auditorium. The conceit of “you’re the refugees!” works better on the stage than off it, but designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita has clearly had a whale of a time with the set. It looks great.
But of course, in a room full of displaced people from all over Europe, nothing’s going to be plain sailing: nationalities and ideologies and cultural histories come crashing up against each other almost immediately, and the British captain in charge (played likably by Peter Hannah) is caught doing his well-meaning best in an impossible situation. This is a play chock-full of ideas, and director Wils Wilson is not afraid to prod them in interesting places. It speaks to 2017, not just in the sense of poking about the merits and pitfalls of democracy, but also about really how broad and varied “Europe” is. It’s never spoken with one voice, or even two or three voices – and especially not in 1945. Cockpit hits an awful lot of political nails on the head. It’s a marvellous find. And you could blow me away with a feather, because Bridget Boland wrote it in 1948. She must have been clairvoyant, there’s no other way. I’m reminded again that history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but it rhymes.
That being said, this is no po-faced political screed, and it feels like every member of the twelve-strong ensemble cast gets a chance to dive deep. Alexandra Mathie as the Polish professor is probably the most listenable-to voice of reason, and Kaisa Hammarlund as French Resistance member Marie moves between action and reflection effortlessly. Dylan Read as the German stage manager Bauer gets some of the biggest laughs, but again, somehow he manages to imbue what ought to be a fool with surprising depth.
This is really worth seeing. Even if you’re not an aficionado of mid-twentieth-century European politics, you’ll be talking about it all the way home. If you can – and I never say this – get a seat near the front. You’ll have a great time.
Photos courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic.
Cockpit runs until 28th October at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.