On a set that would work for Godot, a young couple, Olivia (Florence Hall) and Arthur (Tom Bennett) sit on a bench by the duck-pond in the park on a beautiful day. Olivia reads an item from the newspaper revealing that the country has become a republic. Arthur is not interested – he’s more into a fantasy of being a duck.
A typical lover’s discussion ensues, a bit political, a bit affectionate. Then an oaf in a black boiler suit and a helmet turns up and runs a tape down the middle of the bench, separating the lovers. This is the new border and it may not be breached.
In this tight three-hander, the couple tussle with the border guard, Reiver (Marc Pickering) with increasing desperation to bring Arthur back to the side of Olivia. Reiver is emotionally damaged and a fool, a perfect minion to a never-ending hierarchy of bosses, where no one is ever accountable (cf. contemporary bankers’ excuses). His goofiness can lead to a false sense of optimism– surely he will see sense? — but he has the stun-gun, and the radio, through which armies can be summoned to support his crazy rule.
Playwright Kieran Lynn triumphs here with a sharp, modern satire on a timeless topic. Olivia says “If we are kept apart from each other, by borders for instance, then we start to believe that we are different from each other.” This is excellent material for debate, and Lynn’s take on it is bracingly radical and coherently argued.
The acting is very strong — Tom Bennett’s Arthur is particularly recognisable as the kind of sweet, uncommitted chap who, reasonably, would rather try and keep his head down than get involved. Olivia’s greater political fire cannot win the war alone, however. As well as the big battle, Lynn creates an undercurrent of typical male/female flashpoints which generate many rueful laughs. Ultimately, Lynn throws the gauntlet down to the audience rather than offering solutions.
An Incident at the Border is directed with great wit and economy by Bruce Guthrie, who is masterly in building the frustration of people trapped in a hellish limbo, and yet has made all three characters seem fully human and not merely ciphers for an idea.