By Beth Steel
Directed by Kim Hardwick
A Dream Plane Production
Limelight on Oxford
231 Oxford Street
Season: 3 – 13 April 2019. Bookings: www.limelightonoxford.com.au
“In a world of turmoil…” That’s how the promotional blurb might have started for Ditch. The writer Beth Steel paints a gloomy, doomed world, soon on the precipice of an apocalypse, where the unlikely adversaries are the United Kingdom and China.
How these two countries reached a position of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is not relevant to this tale, although it does involve Venezuela. It was written 10 years ago, and the prevalence of these three nations in world affairs right now validates Ms Steel’s grasp of potential future world calamities.
The events in this story takes place over several months in a remote, government run outpost near Sheffield UK. The purpose of this facility is to watch out for ‘illegals’ trekking the countryside. A new security recruit arrives named James (Martin Quinn). He is a novice but the other three men in the security detail are quick to set him straight on the daily routine. A letter arrives for the senior officer Burns (Laurence Coy) confirming that he is to command the outpost. He is not relishing this position.
The two officers are Bug (Angus Evans) and Turner (Giles Gartrell-Mills). Completing the staff list are the cook and facilities manager Mrs Peel (Fiona Press) and her young assistant Megan (Jasmin Simmons).
The mood in the outpost is as good as one can expect given worsening political, economic, military and climatic conditions. Communication with the outside world is deteriorating, signal strength is poor, so they rely on radio news bulletins for the latest. Supplies arrive weekly but they are becoming unreliable and quantities of basics are diminishing. The weather is wet and cold and there is a constant howling of the wind.
Against this backdrop of externally imposed hardships, the six team members go about their daily tasks in a sombre state of mind. For the men, solace is found in their whisky flasks.
Mrs Peel has been a good cook, but her inventiveness is now pushed to the limit as the larder becomes barren. She puts the last remaining potato on the table and pleads with Burns to allow a small vegetable garden to be established for self-sufficiency. He will not sanction the idea, claiming he and his men have no time for such matters. He later relents, embracing the garden and other measures with eagerness as hunger kicks in.
Not knowing the full ramifications of events outside, everyone is increasingly conscious of their loneliness. It begins to consume their thoughts. Turner is a tough soldier with a short temper and even he is thinking of escaping with Bug, hoping they can form a loving bond. Megan enjoys James’ sense of humour as he explains how to find the North Star. Finally, they can’t resist each other, giving in to their sexual desires. And Burns begins to fancy companionship with Mrs Peel. As the fate of the world gets dimmer, everyone’s need for human intimacy escalates.
Keen to defend their King and country, Bug and James go off to an unknown theatre of conflict. James is killed and Bug returns without an arm. He is a changed man and we discover what men will do to escape the horrors of war. Any thoughts of serving country have vanished.
Ditch is a first-rate drama and the ending caught me by complete surprise. Directed by Kim Hardwick, we can understand the mindsets of each character. As hope fades for everyone, the mind creates hopeful scenarios giving the strength to continue, even though those outcomes are highly unlikely. Congratulations to cast members, all gave fine performances. I liked the creative set design, authentic costuming, effective mood lighting and fabulous sound effects of the weather.
For most, Ditch is a sad story, but it is gripping to watch. I hope there will be a film adaptation soon.