opens with a phone call. “This is your only chance,” says a mysterious man with glasses to a fresh-faced Colonel (Josh Wilce) who looks as though he has never even seen Dad’s Army
, let alone the battle-field. Moments later, a team of soldiers arrive for their briefing, each looking as surprised as the other to find themselves in cargo trousers. This mismatched group of five, which includes a Strongbow-drinking, face-pulling thief called Junks (Alex Wood), is entrusted with a secret mission. They must steal the Aleph. The problem is that they are not allowed to talk about it. They don’t even know what it is.
The team are trapped in their safe house. Tensions allow the initially cardboard characters to crack, and the play transforms into a study in the relationships between these soldiers. There follows a series of emotionally fraught scenes, the majority of which the cast pull off admirably. Claire Bowman’s strong and silent lieutenant is particularly persuasive, and Will Law’s Captain Evans is fantastic in the latter stages of the play. In general, the cast does anger better than conversation, but there are some moving moments of compassion, and Wood’s portrayal of madness is brilliant, if disturbing.
Despite some thoughtful acting, none of the cast has the posture or the presence of the armed forces. This makes it particularly hard to believe in the war which supposedly takes place around them. It is a shame that, though this wartime adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story has great potential as an idea, I don’t think was entirely successful. The plot is predictable and the aleph itself turns out to be disappointingly familiar. Like Tolkein’s palantir or Potter’s pensieve, it allows the seer ‘to be one with the visual world; to see into every box’. Although the scene in which this is revealed is well crafted, the writer Eli Keren leaves himself little time to explore the implications of the Aleph itself, and instead wastes time with extensive military build-up. The dialogue is admirable in places, but, even by the end of the play, the characters are not entirely believable. That said, it was enjoyable to watch, and if you find yourself near the BT with 90 minutes to spare, go.
*** (3 Stars)
The Aleph is showing in the Burton Taylor Studio at 7.30pm from Tuesday to Saturday, 4th Week. 5th-9th February. Tickets available at £6 (£5 concessions).