Our Conspiracy Season is a scandalous programme of plays about secrets, surveillance and the misuse of power. These include the return of our celebrated co-production with Headlong, 1984 before it embarks on a world tour, and the classic John Webster tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi.
The shows in The Conspiracy Season are:
Click through to each event to book tickets now, or call Box Office on 0115 941 9419.
The Conspiracy Pass
delve deeper into the conspiracy season…
Starting this autumn, our Conspiracy Season deals in secrets and subterfuge, as issues of surveillance and the misuse of power play out on the main stage at Nottingham Playhouse. The examination of the relationship between the individual and the state makes for four compelling dramas, and across the season we shall see this theme appear in a multitude of different guises. A vein of truth also runs through each play, as they seek to hold up a mirror to our world and encourage audiences to question the status quo.
In our season opener 1984, the struggle between the individual and the state can be seen at its most explicit through Winston Smith’s attempts to battle for free will against the might of Big Brother. Watched everywhere one goes, and the control of the Party able to be felt through every element of life, even the mere thought of opposition is illegal in this smash-hit Olivier Award-nominated production.
The ways in which 1984’s echoes are felt in the modern day are striking – as recently as 2013, the New Yorker wrote an article that asked “So are we living in 1984?” reflecting on the recent revelations by former intelligence contractor turned whistle-blower Edward Snowden:
“Thinking about Edward Snowden…it wasn’t much of a leap to imagine him and his colleagues working in some version of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth, gliding through banal office gigs whose veneer of nine-to-five technocratic normality helped to hide their more sinister reality…. Holed up in a hotel room in Hong Kong, Snowden seemed, if you squinted a bit, like Orwell’s protagonist-hero Winston, had he been a bit more ambitious, and considerably more lucky, and managed to defect from Oceania to its enemy Eastasia and sneak a message to the telescreens back home.”
Edward Snowden’s Christmas Message, December 2013
In 1953, a mere 4 years after George Orwell’s 1984 was first published, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg went to the electric chair for passing atomic secrets to the Russians after World War II. The second play of our season – The Rubenstein Kiss – is inspired by these events and reflects upon the sorts of questions the case posed using the fictional Rubensteins, a devoted Jewish couple who are closely modelled on the real life Rosenbergs.
The Cold War setting of the play raises issues that still resonate throughout international politics today. With China rising to new prominence, and her ideologies now being heard louder than ever, the repercussions of a time that changed the shape of the world and relationships within it continue to play out across the political stage. The uncertainty of that time forced politically minded citizens like the Rosenberg’s to make the most impossible decisions, and it is these decisions that we have an opportunity to examine in James Phillips’ critically acclaimed play.
The Duchess of Malfi continues to look at this complex relationship between the individual and the state, but here the conflict is closer to home, realised on albeit smaller, but far bloodier scale. The individual here is represented by the eponymous Duchess, who struggles against the restrictions placed on her by her two brothers, who as cardinal and duke symbolise the dual power of church and state. Their desire for control manifests itself as female oppression, which only serves to harm the society they claim to protect.
Of course gender equality and opportunities for women have improved significantly since the play was first performed just over four centuries ago, but violence against women continues to be an issue.
Statistics collated from various sources by feminist organisation UK Feminista reveal that on average two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner in the UK and up to 3 million women and girls across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, stalking, or other forms of abuse each year. The horrific extent of this issue is heightened further when we look at it on an international scale. According to a global review of available data by The World Health Organisation in 2013, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has also estimated that of all the women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members. The ordeal of the Duchess then serves as a powerful reminder of the prevalence of violence against women that still exists in today’s society.
The final play in the Conspiracy Season is a new work, which brings the subterfuge right to our doorstep. Any Means Necessary is inspired by the real life case of a group of environmental activists who were charged with trespassing as they attempted to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in 2009. Moving far beyond the “Us vs Them” scenario of the individual versus the state, the conflict here is clouded when an undercover police officer infiltrates, and becomes embroiled in the world of the protesters. In the real-life events that inspired the play, the case against the protesters was dropped and scandal ensued when it emerged that a member of the Metropolitan Police had been working undercover within the group, to the point of being instrumental in organising their actions. Despite being charged with “conspiracy to commit trespass”, the case fell apart, and the actions of the police were held up for scrutiny by the protester’s barrister:
“Their honourable and decent motives perhaps might be contrasted with what we now know about the long-term deployment of undercover police officers, one of whom acted on the ‘extreme boundary of legality’, if not decency, if the reports of agitation and so on across Europe are to be believed. The deployment of that officer has been concealed from the defendant by the crown in these proceedings.”
A play drawn from life seeks to hammer home the possibility that even those who are meant to protect us can seek to betray us. The local setting provides the perfect landscape in which to close the season and only serves to emphasise that the issues raised on stage are not just the stuff of storytelling. These are real and present dangers, and it is our duty to keep questioning the status quo, through theatre, and conversation, before the fiction becomes fact.