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ITD at 21: The Zero Hour by Pete Brooks

2nd May 2019 by Morven Macbeth

The Zero Hour, or Stunde Null as it was originally called, was my third show with ITD and it drew on a number of preoccupations that I share with my colleagues Andrew and Simon.  As fathers with relatively young children inevitably the first among these is a concern for what the future holds, particularly for our children, but also for us. And because we recognise our children are growing up in a different world to the one in which we did, they also force us to interrogate our relationship with the past.

Increasingly as I’ve got older, I realize how much we are products of the Second World War, an event that is so traumatic it has reverberated politically and socially for decades after, if not centuries (actually this is to be the subject of a future ITD show Europe After the Rain).

As a very small child I remember bombsites, and the war, as it was fictionalised in comics like The Victor and The Valiant, was a very present part of my childhood. The slow realization of the discrepancy between this cartoon fiction and the reality of what was, at the time, recent history, was very much the narrative of my intellectual development, of gradually understanding history as a reinvention of the past along ideological lines.

The Zero Hour was set in Berlin in the hours following the end of the Second World War in Europe. A series of narrative fragments delineate the story of three couples; German, English and Russian, in multiple alternate histories, and one real, versions of May 9th 1945. The events on stage are filmed by camera crews and the footage edited and then projected as a live stream onto the proscenium aperture that frames the action. Simple scenographically, but actually rather beautiful to look at, the piece used back projected images, still and animated, that we had hacked from computer games set in Chernobyl or wartime Berlin. The actors spoke English but also German and Russian, as we were striving for the kind of faux authenticity that seduces us in foreign films. Matt and Laura learned Russian but only ended up sounding, as one Russian native confided, like Czechs trying to speak Polish. Of course, that didn’t matter, in fact it was the point. It felt authentic but it wasn’t, just like the computer-generated backgrounds. A question that dominated the devising stage of the project concerned the camera crews. Who were they? Were they stage managers? Were they part of the fiction? The answer we came up with was to cast 2 crews of Chinese performers. As a metaphor it seemed to us to work perfectly as a way of suggesting that history is a fiction based on the events of the past, and it is always controlled by whoever dominates the geo-political landscape, and in the current century that is likely to be the Chinese.

Pete Brooks
April 2019

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