An unusual piece, this: a published play that appears never to have been performed in the form presented ( I think it’s available only as part of a 3 play anthology including, Equus and Five Finger Exercise). But the author wanted this piece out there, even if it wasn’t performed. And I can see why.
This is a device to project certain philosophical views and beliefs rather than a piece of true drama, though it does contain the usual elements of the stage play. As is commonly the case with Shaffer, the setting and the stage directions are precise, leaving no doubt about the intended platform or the actors’ movements and disposition. In this sense, the writer acts much like a director in determining the staging of his work.
The characters, three men and a young woman, are all exquisitely penned and their interactions jump from the page with credible drama. Set around the end of the 1960s and much associated with the peace movements of the time, the play explores what it means to be a pacifist in a real sense. Using the conflicts and relationships that spring from family, friendship, sex, love and hero-worship, Shaffer puts his players through emotional hell in a way that illuminates the variety and depth of the human spirit. Several of the scenes are so powerful they will stay with me for a long time
What could so easily have descended into banal bickering, is elevated to considered and emotionally charged discussion that resounds with truth and insight. This is not a play to enjoy; in fact, I have my doubts about whether it would be possible to perform it successfully before a theatre audience because of the detail and depth of meaning that dwells within many of the passages. But, as a reading of the text, it works very well and serves to educate in an entertaining manner, whilst throwing some light on the motives of some of those involved in the early peace movements.
It’s a very human play. There is real love behind the depiction of the characters, allowing the reader to empathise with all four, whilst seeing their weaknesses. Something to give cause for thought to both pacifists and warmongers, I recommend this deeply affecting piece of writing to all readers who enjoy challenges to their belief systems, philosophy and lifestyle. Try it; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.