“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger”
The printed program for Bruce Graham’s The Duration carries this simple yet moving quote by the Buddha that foreshadows what’s in store at the Omnibus Theatre that evening. Set in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States, Graham’s play explores the legacy of the devastating incident through the lens of a family trying to come to terms with their loss and anger. The show commemorates the 20th anniversary of the incident, at a time when there has been a resurgence in interest in the geopolitical scenario of Afghanistan. With the Taliban overthrowing the elected government last month, there is a renewed criticism of the US government’s reaction in the years that followed the bombing, tracing America’s longstanding battle with Islamophobia and xenophobia. Graham’s play doesn’t intend to pass a judgement on the social-political fallouts of the incident, but rather highlight the vast, numbing impact it had on the lives of ordinary citizens. The show is directed by Jelena Budimir and produced by All Ignite Theatre, with an ensemble cast consisting of Sarah Finigan, Florence Roberts and Jason Wilson.
The story concerns the life of mother-daughter duo Audrey and Emma who lost a family member in the 9/11 attacks. Audrey, a published historian at a public university, has taken it upon herself to deconstruct the happenings of that fateful Tuesday morning and get to the bottom of the intricate web of politics and conspiracies behind it. After an unlikely incident at her university, she packs up her bags and moves to the middle of nowhere in an attempt to find some peace within. She starts taking up activities that are contrary to her beliefs and ideology, making her daughter Emma be concerned about her mother’s well-being. Emma has her own share of troubles to deal with, such as a crumbling relationship and growing anxieties of living in an increasingly polarized world where accusations against people of colour fly thick and fast. The mother and daughter’s fractured relationship is put to the test as they attempt to traverse an incredibly difficult time in their lives where nothing seems to be going their way. In an attempt to find closure and overcome what’s on their mind, each must undertake difficult decisions that puts them at odds with each other.
Sarah Finigan delivers a hauntingly poignant performance as Audrey, bringing out the character’s gradual neurotic slip (and eventual recovery) with an intensity that hooks you completely. Florence Roberts’ portrayal of Emma delicately brings out the character’s inner anxieties of trying to maintain her own sanity whilst attempting to be mindful of her mother’s deteriorating condition. Jason Wilson’s brief yet highly impactful presence as Father Douglas creates a sense of relief and resolution in an otherwise tense boxing game between the mother-daughter duo. Graham’s writing is succinct and gripping, bringing out the characters complex inner feelings in the words that are complemented by specific gestures and idiosyncrasies played out by the performers and crafted by Budimir. The stage direction is engaging, focusing more on the characters’ inner rhythm to drive the tension in the writing rather than relying on production-heavy choices. Sarah Jane Booth’s stage design is successful in creating many different worlds of the story in a tight-knit space and allows us to appreciate the intimate, in-the-round staging. Andrew Caddies’ light design and Joe Dines’ sound design aid in creating an atmospheric presence for the show, that replicates the sensation of the characters feeling trapped in circular conversations about their grief, loss and anger.
To summarize, The Duration is a powerful exploration of the complex outpouring of emotions, reactions and behaviours that followed one of the most memorable incidents of the previous century. Whilst it serves as a powerful reminder of the collective trauma an entire generation of citizens had to live through, it doesn’t surrender itself to it, giving us a glimpse into the small acts of kindness, self-regulation and forgiveness that might just make it possible to move ahead in spite and despite what happened.
You can watch The Duration at the Omnibus Theatre SW4 0QW until 26th September. Learn more and book your tickets at https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/the-duration/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 10th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★