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A CurtainUp London London Review

The swimmer in the sea does not fear the rain — Islamist activist
Tobias Menzies, Amy Lennox and Cat Simmons (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Headlong director Rupert Goold has taken a leaf out of Punchdrunk’s book to place his tribute to the sights and sounds and stories of the day the Twin Towers were destroyed in a site specific venue at the former Commodity Quay on the Traders Floor at St Katherine’s Dock. No less than 19 writers were invited to contribute scenes for this event and Goold has welded these into a more or less coherent whole with Scott Ambler giving us some memorable and exciting choreography.

The venue has been arranged so that on entering we are taken through Security and Immigration, then questioned by uniformed officials as if we were entering the United States. At first I thought this was extra security for the show because its timing and content. We are then seated in the restaurant, "The Windows on the World" with a panorama at either end of the playing area of the view from the 106th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Above and in front of us is a corridor with glass windows, a wonderful opportunity for us to see figures outlined as if at the windows of a skyscraper or for actors to run along, for instance, to escort a patient on a trolley in an emergency.

The potpourri of stories are by their nature episodic and sometimes inevitably patchy. However, some of the writing and images indelibly impacts on your brain.

Mike Bartlett’s journalist (Samuel James) in The Enemy interviewing a reluctant to be interviewed Navy Seals officer (Kevin Harvey) on the raid which cornered Bin Laden is a masterpiece of monosyllabic grunts and taciturn, non committal responses. The Sentinels by Matthew Lopez, about three widows of 9/11 who meet up on the anniversary each year, struck me asthe most prosaic, their contribution not really justifying their repeated appearance for each of the ten years but out of order.

I was enthralled by Toby Menzies’ storytelling of Samuel Adamson’s version of Scott Forbes’ account. Forbes, the English database specialist who worked in the South Tower, had worked the weekend and so was off on the 11th. He witnessed the strike and gives us his conspiracy theory about the power down in the days before 9/11 and explosives in the bottom of the World Trade Centre. Forbes shares with us his idiosyncratic reaction after the first plane hit as he imagined he’d be working in a building with one tower before of course the second plane hit.

Some stories are about Islam and its impact in Britain and yet others are about Iraq and events there, the context for these attacks. The passengers on the flights are remembered with the flight steward’s routine flight safety instructions choreographed by the whole cast to "the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" but with their actions extending into what happened during the flight.

I liked Jonathan Bonnici’s Arab shopkeeper Ali. Emma Fielding’s speed dating woman with eczema by Ben Ellis was the most surreal and bizarre. It opens with a paper aeroplane thrown by a man in Arab dress and ends with the tour guides, each of whom has to have had a personal experience of that day. Charlotte Randle closes in My Name is Tanya Head by Alexandra Wood, about a Spanish woman who pretended that she had been there that day in order to take part as a survivor but who was exposed in 2007 as a fantasist having arrived in America in 2003.

Theperformances are uniform but Kat Simmons’ expressive movement is outstanding, although Scott Ambler often has the whole cast unified and choreographed. The cast wear dust on their shoulders thoughout, which feels rather contrived. Of the images, with such strong iconography being forged on the day the twin towers went down, the figures with hands outstretched at the window in Decade is one that will also stay with me.

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Written by Samuel Adamson, Mike Bartlett, Alecky Blythe, Ben Ellis, Ella Hickson, Samuel D Hunter, John Logan, Matthew Lopez, Mona Mansour, DC Moore, Abi Morgan, Rory Mullarkey, Janine Nabers, Lynn Nottage, Harrison Rivers, Simon Schama, Christopher Shinn, Beth Steel, Alexandra Wood
Directed by Rupert Goold

Starring: Emma Fielding, Tobias Menzies, Charlotte Randle, Cat Simmons, Kevin Harvey
With: Jonathan Bonnici, Leila Crerar, Tom Hodgkins, Samuel James, Arinze Kene, Amy Lennox, Claire Prempeh, Chloe Faty/Isabella Mason/Charlotte St Croix
Set Designed by Miriam Buether
Costume Designer: Emma Williams
Choreographer: Scott Ambler
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth
Composer and Sound Designer: Adam Cork
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 (The National Theatre Box Office)
Booking to 15th October 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th September 2011 performance at Commodity Quay, St Katharine’s Dock, 1 East Smithfield, London E1W 1AZ (Tube: Tower Hill/Tower Gateway)

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