London Theatre 1
‘fascinating and compelling in equal measure’ ★★★★
Nina Toussaint-White (Rona Worthing) and Math Sams (Dr Tom Pennington)
These days, the words ‘post truth’ and ‘fake news’ are accepted as part of common language. There is a real uncertainty about who or what can be trusted as a source of news or information.When a lone warrior attempts to stand up against the resources of a large corporation, whose voice is likely to win through? That is the problem facing the hero of Chuck Anderson’s The View from Nowhere at Park 90.
The evening starts with a lecture from Dr Prez Washington (Mensah Bediako) a renowned – some might say notorious – scientist who specialises in endocrine disruptions. In jaunty and cheerful style, he tells his audience of the things that can cause cancer, including one of the chemicals in a particular herbicide. The chemical is called Atraphosphate and the manufacturer is Alchemex, one of the largest chemical companies in the world. Next we are in Prez’s lab where, with his post-Doc researcher Sandy Jones (Emma Mulkern) are talking with Dr Tom Pennington (Math Sams) a representative of Alchemex who has come with an awesome offer to fund Prez’s work and invite him onto a peer review committee to examine the effects, if any, of Atraphosphate on living bodies. This is all part of a marketing strategy by Alchemex’s Director of Corporate Affairs Rona Worthing (Nina Toussaint-White). Rona believes that she can control the messages getting out about Atraphosphate, but she underestimates how much of a maverick Dr Prez really is. So, in the battle for the truth who will win and what lengths will each side go to to ensure their version of reality is one accepted as truth?
Mensah Bediako (Prez, Dr PG Washington)
In my day job we have a one-day course on unconscious bias. The course starts with each group being asked to draw a scientist. 9 times out of 10 the picture that is produced is an elderly white man wearing a lab coat. Mensah Bediako playing Prez, couldn’t be further from this image if he tried. Prez is a tall black man with dreadlocks and a highly colourful dress sense. This is an interesting touch for the author to put in. Making Prez not only a lone voice against the corporation but also someone that many people outside of the scientific community, would not necessarily take seriously as a scientist. It is a brilliant touch to an already fascinating plot. Mensah plays to part superbly. When he first came on for the opening lecture/monologue, my mind instantly turned to Johnny Ball and his shows. That infectious enthusiasm that he transmits means even if the science side goes over your head, you can’t help but liking and trusting Prez. In contrast, Tom Pennington is exactly what you would expect from a scientist that has taken the corporate 30 pieces of silver. Math Sams portrays the scientist who finds himself conflicted between scientific method and purity and loyalty to the company. Nina Toussaint-White’s Rona has no such problems. Her loyalty is to the company that pays her and she will not let anything as inconvenient as the truth get in her way of protecting the company and its brand. Power suited to perfection – nice work by designer Dan Street – Nina plays Rona as a ruthless manipulator of people and ‘facts’ and does it superbly. Of the four characters, I found Sandy Jones to be the least developed. There seemed to be a lot of potential, especially given the character’s background but I just didn’t feel I fully grasped her thoughts or why she acted the way she did. Emma Mulkern played the part well but I really did think the character needed more fleshing out.
Director Dan Phillips stages The View From Nowhere in the round and this works very well in the compact space of Park 90. Characters move around enough so that there are very few times when blocking is an issue and by moving around the edges, we can go with Prez on his lecturing/fund raising tour. Overall, I think the staging worked really well and with Chris Howell’s lighting design kept the audience very focussed on the action as it moved round.
The View from Nowhere is apparently all fiction but I imagine it is based on quite a bit of reality. There is a real concern about the effects that the blend of chemicals circulating in the environment may have consequences that are currently unknown. The play is well written and acted and, even if the technical side was a little bit above me, I found it fascinating and compelling in equal measure. An interesting story, really well staged that has the potential to create a long discussion and a frisson of distrust the next time some multi-national conglomerate puts out a press release saying everything they produce is fine… honest.
Review by Terry Eastham