27 April 2017
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The Plague, Arcola Theatre, London
A doctor who sees a dead rat on the landing of her apartment block considers it an issue of domestic rather than professional concern. Ten months later, though, the medic is an exhausted member of a public-health team fighting against a bacterial infection of such virulence that cemeteries are overwhelmed and the city gates have been sealed. Inside the terrified metropolis, citizens variously attribute the vermin to unhygienic refugees, political corruption or divine providence.
First published in 1947, in a post-war France where parts of the population had recently sided with murderous outsiders against fellow citizens, Albert Camus’ La Peste can be seen as a version of Kafka’s The Trial in which an entire community comes under suspicion.
Deliberately distancing the story from its historical triggers, Neil Bartlett’s tremendously tense and thoughtful stage version modernises the setting to a tribunal room of the sort that has, in the recent past, dissected divisive events in Belfast, Hillsborough, Sarajevo, Soweto and other headline sites of devastation.
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