For the first ten minutes of Freedom Studio’s production of North Country you could be excused for thinking you were watching some social media posts or even a rudimentary documentary about current events. Three teenagers discuss the progress of a pandemic as it sweeps across the earth destroying all in its path …. Hmm! Yet the play by Tajinder Singh Hayer was first written and performed in 2016 making it remarkably prescient and a very eerie experience.
Fortunately, things have not quite gone as far as Hayer’s play posits. It soon becomes clear that the three characters really are the remnants of a depopulated world and society has completely broken down. Harvinder, Nusrat and Alleyne, who are on the cusp of adulthood, are struggling to make sense of it all and to survive. All three will have to reinvent themselves in order to find their position in this “brave new world”. Society regresses to a feudal state with talk of tithes, dynastically arranged relationships and, most significantly a barter system based on the new currency of food. Alleyne is in the strongest position as he has a farm and animals to sustain him and use as economic collateral; more importantly he also has a gun. Soon he finds himself in a position of power and uses this to elevate himself to the station of overlord. Harvinder also has some power as he has “inherited” his doctor parent’s supply of medicines and he soon finds himself caring for others. Nusrat gathers other survivors around her and becomes a mother figure (a begum) though not without a canny sense of how to survive.
The three actors (Natalie Davies, Philip D. McQuillan and Kamal Kaan) give convincing performances as the younger versions of the characters although they are not quite so successful in their older incarnations – in a sense how could they be? McQuillan who starts out as a suitably likeable farmhand mutates into a cold unfeeling tyrant intent on keeping power. Davies’s character grows in strength and determination. Kaan’s reluctant doctor (he really wanted to be a video games designer) holds the balance of power and shows that there is still a place for unselfish acts in this cruellest of worlds. We also hear about how the rest of the population are doing and the picture is not a pretty one – at one stage there is even a suggestion that cannibalism is occurring.
Of course, all this is currently not without its fascination. Good science fiction – especially the strand that deals with a dystopian narrative – should have as much to say about the present as it seemingly does about the future. So, this production delivers a horrible vision of what so nearly might have been….or, perish the thought, might still be. The original production was mounted in an abandoned Marks and Spencer’s basement in Bradford and this filmed version is set in a burnt out building with a suitably apocalyptic look. Everything is captured on mobile phones and to be authentic that’s how I watched it too. It is perhaps a pity that the distant sound of traffic permeates the recording as that tended to undermine the atmosphere which should be eerily silent. However, it kept me hooked for its hour running time even if there were occasional glitches (not sure if that was the recording or my Wi-Fi); these actually added to the apocalyptic atmosphere. This is a real story for our times. While it may not take your mind off the current predicament it does clearly show why we need to get through this pandemic with understanding and humanity.
I tell them that’s what’s going to keep us alive. Connection. When things got bad, it wasn’t just because people got ill, it’s because they stopped looking out for each other. And I tell them that each night like a bedtime story. And I tell them not to cry. Because we’ve cried enough.
North Country is available on You Tube and access has just been extended until May 21st. Click here
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