First performed at the Hampstead Theatre, London, in August 1976, this two act play is another of Frayn’s comedies. However, I’m at a loss to know for certain what it’s really about.
Set in Cuba (though the stage is a blank arena with stepped surfaces, chairs and a back-projection screen to receive the images of the sky that give the play its name) the action revolves around a trio of writers who are there to report on the state of the island a short time after Castro’s takeover. As a teenager during the time of the Cuba Crisis, when we held our collective breath as Kruschev and Kennedy postured over the issue of nuclear missiles sited on the island, Cuba holds a resonance unlikely to echo through the blood of the modern reader.
There’s a love story in here, though it may be that simple lust is the driver, in spite of the protestations of the protagonists. There are cultural misunderstandings, cynicism on an epic scale, subtle, and not so subtle, political asides, and, of course, humour. The go-getting American, the lady novelist and the reporter from the UK are stereotypical yet manage to convey some individuality. The tired diplomat-cum-guide-cum-minder is just that, but hovers between his sense of duty and the lust he develops for the lady novelist. The driver is a rogue, philanderer and wide-boy with an obvious eye for the ladies and the only male in the cast who appears immune to the charms of the novelist.
So, an interesting cast with an intriguing span of relationships. We follow them on their odd tour of the island, a typical itinerary for a communist regime, ensuring these foreigners see all the technical and commercial developments but are excluded from intercourse with the actual people wherever possible. There is the standard misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise, between the eventual would-be lovers. There is the expected friction between the American and British writers. There is the unconscious condescension shown by the writers for their guardian and driver. But, in the hands of this master, the sometimes spare dialogue is made to say so much more than the mere words.
I imagine the sparse setting would enhance the dialogue, which is what the play is all about, removing visual distractions so that all attention is given to the characters as they set about their tasks of misinformation, professional and personal rivalry, seduction and petty jealousy.
The text made me laugh where I was expected to find humour. It made me react emotionally to the various scenes of conflict, co-operation, misunderstanding and attempted sexual conquest. But I was left with an ending that seemed unfinished and flat. I didn’t expect an explosion, merely something that wound up at least something of the action that had preceded it, rather than the rather vague conclusion that the experience had changed nothing.
Would I go to see the play performed? I wouldn’t queue, but if it were easy to attend, I think I’d give it a try. Make of that what you will.