Park Theatre, 27 June – 22 July. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Chuck Anderson’s new play has a very important message about the presence of industrial chemicals in the environment, and the battle between corporations and scientists over whether the levels in the environment are high enough to damage humans. Unfortunately, the message gets lost in a cliched David versus Goliath story that we’ve all seen before.
Alchemex, makers of the world’s leading weed killer, offer scientist P.G. Washington a research grant to continue his work on the effects of a chemical in the weed killer on the hormones of frogs. When his results become awkward for the company, he refuses to back down, instead publicising the risks of the weed killer. This leads to the company’s PR machine launching a campaign to discredit Prez and his work to protect their interests.
The main problem are the scientists – Prez is just too easy a target for Alchemex. Dreadlocked, dressed like a children’s entertainer, brought up on a sink estate, an egotistical anti-establishment showman, he has all the “interesting” traits a flawed hero has in a Hollywood movie. And is just as annoying – remember Patch Adams? If Prez had been a dull, quiet scientist, this could have been a much more interesting play with less obvious plot points. Mensah Bediako does a great job trying to give the character a little humanity, there are some cracking one-liners, but Prez is not a fully rounded character. The adoration of his research assistant Sandy (Emma Mulkern) is laid on with a trowel – again, it’s nothing to do with the acting, Mulkern gives a splendid performance as the socially inept student with attachment issues – the audience is drip fed her past, and so are given a reason for her adoration of Prez; and needy, lost people clinging on to the feeling of family by revering an unsuitable father figure is a real danger, but it all gets a little melodramatic and overblown. The voice of Alchemex is Rona (Nina Toussaint-White), loyal to the company and willing to stoop to any level to protect the brand. Toussaint-White has a tough job, as Rona is a complete blank, only showing the slightest hint of emotion. Math Sams as Pennington has the most interesting character arc – a scientist, but a complicit company man, whose disillusionment and disgust at what is going on finally leads to him growing a spine.
Chuck Anderson certainly knows his facts, but The View From Nowhere struggles to engage emotionally. The story begins interestingly, but then lurches sharply into TV movie of the week territory. The cast, at times, seem to be concentrating so much on the technical jargon that they forget characters’ names, although I am sure that this will improve during the run. Even the supposedly dramatic climax is puzzling and feels rushed – it just doesn’t ring true. The framing of the play as Prez’s lectures works well though, as does the set design, with projections of cells and formulae on the floor.
The View From Nowhere is a well-intentioned, but flawed attempt at highlighting a serious issue – like the hermaphrodite frogs in the experiments, this play doesn’t seem to have a definite identity and the message gets bogged down in a weekly sketched character study.