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March 12, 2007 | by  | in Theatre |
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Deliver Us

Written by Paul Rothwell
Directed by David Lawrence
BATS, February 27 – March 3

At first, Deliver Us is superbly entertaining. The strained family environment feels utterly familiar – the suicidal teenage son Dominic (Alex Greig) delivering dark wisecracks to his patient, anxious mother Cherie (Erin Banks) as they wait for hapless yet buoyant Dad Merrick (Errol Shand) to bring teenage daughter Lauren (Jodie Hillock) home from the hospital with premature baby, Margo. Cherie quits her job as powerful a businesswoman to stay at home and care for Margo. Lauren doesn’t seem to mind as caring for a child is “just not where I am and that.” And so, everything seems normal. Well, relatively. Rothwell’s ear for dialogue is in fine form in the first part of the play, causing laughter and recognition in much of the audience.

But then, Margo starts turning up in places Cherie didn’t leave her, her cradle starts rocking by itself, and Cherie has dreams where she imagines killing Margo.

And then just when I was expecting some kind of Exorcist demon baby from hell kind of play with Margo and the cradle taking the star turn, Deliver Us takes a giant shift. A mysterious, strangely placid young man (Salesi Le’ota) turns up at the door, claims to be a friend of Dominic’s, rips up the family photos, ties up the family and claims “everything you have belongs to me.” It becomes clear that he is the child that Cherie and Merrick aborted sixteen years ago. He then proceeds to wreak a destructive path, causing the deaths of both Merrick and Dominic, and after Lauren leaves with Margo, he makes peace with his mother, who is now utterly alone.

It’s a shift on par with Sarah Kane’s Blasted, in which a Leeds hotel room becomes the scene of a genocide and civil war when the hotel is blown apart in a bomb blast. It works because the form is utterly connected to the content. Kane blasts apart the traditional play structure to show us that the war in Bosnia (current at the time of writing in 1995) is not something distant to us, but something utterly connected to the citizens of Europe. By placing the first events of the play – a rape in a hotel room in Leeds, together with the events of war, she shows us how easily acts of violence can escalate.

So, does Rothwell’s form serve the content? Not as perfectly as Kane, but yes. Rothwell has shattered an everyday existence to show us the devastating emotional consequences of our past actions. But does it deliver us an anti-abortionist message? If you can whittle it down to something that simple, it’s definitely critiquing the abortions as practised by the middle class: too greedy to have another child, or too focused on their careers. Or it could be read as sympathetic towards women who have abortions – allowing us an insight into the sense of loss and continued maternal feelings.

To me, that’s often the measure of a great play – you can take it at face value but it also allows many differing meanings. I still don’t know in my mind if the young man is a subconscious representation of guilt on the part of Cherie, brought on by the presence of her daughter’s child, or even if it’s wise to place such psychologically realistic constraints on the play. After all, the play works if you accept, for the duration of the play, that an aborted child could come back to speak to you. And I did.

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