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Reviews – The View from Nowhere



‘a heartfelt critique of the power of corporations’ ★★★

Sandy Pennington
Math Sams (Dr Tom Pennington) and Emma Mulkern (Sandy Jones)

There are several pages of notes explaining terms such as endocrine disruptors and Bisphenol A in the programme for The View From Nowhere but you don’t need to understand any of these to appreciate the play’s heartfelt critique of the power of corporations in the world of scientific research. Chuck Anderson has written a play filled with frustration at how research is dependent on funding by mighty chemical manufacturers who, despite claims to the contrary, cannot help but exert influence on how the results are interpreted and used.
Rona Pennington LARGE
Nina Toussaint-White (Rona Worthing) and Math Sams (Dr Tom Pennington)

While this play could easily have touched on sectors such as pharmaceuticals, Anderson focuses on agrochemicals and concerns about their effects on animal and human health. A brilliant but maverick biologist PG “Prez” Washington seals a pact with chemical giant Alchemex to carry out research into the risks of a best-selling herbicide, Atrophosphate – a fictional chemical with a similar global dominance as real-life herbicides such as Atrazine and Glyphosate. With lab assistant Sandy Jones, he soon finds evidence that it causes abnormalities in the sexual organs of frogs which he believes has implications for humans. But despite the efforts of Alchemex’s in-house biochemist Tom Pennington, the company’s bosses are not prepared to accept his findings, setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to undermine the scientists’ careers and relationships.

Mensah Bediako (Prez, Dr PG Washington)

In dreadlocks and a colourful “zoot suit”, Mensah Bediako embodies Prez with mercurial charm. He is a man who delights in defying convention and not playing by the rules, although he seems largely untroubled when this has consequences for other people. As a black man from a tough working-class estate, the high-flying Prez feels an outsider but makes this part of his persona, whether refusing to toe the line with the rest of the scientific community or chanting out a rap in lectures.

Emma Mulkern (Sandy Jones)

The emotional heart of the play is the friendship between Prez and Sandy, played with fragile zeal by Emma Mulkern. Having lost both her parents while still a child, she sees her boss as a father figure – something Prez fails to fully appreciate – but this intriguing thread is somewhat lost in the wider polemic about the agrochemical industry. It is anger that drives the play, exploring and exposing how it is impossible for any scientific research to be truly independent without funding from industry but, without this cash, the research would be unlikely to happen. It also suggests that, however much scientists want to deal only in cold facts without prejudice, there is no such thing as having a “view from nowhere”. Math Sams is excellent as Tom, a biochemist who wants to be fair to both sides but finds that you have to choose between company loyalty and personal ethics while Nina Toussaint-White is steely and tough as Alchemex’s unfailingly loyal director of corporate affairs, Rona Worthing.

Mensah Bediako (Prez, Dr PG Washington)

Directed by Dan Phillips, this is unashamedly an issue-based play. Its conscience is Prez, who often addresses the audience directly as if they were fellow scientists at a lecture, pressing home his view on why there are problems with industry-backed research. In its criticism of the system of scientific funding, the drama has little subtlety and appears to afford no grey areas – just black and white. But maybe that is because there are no grey areas, making the play’s tone of frustration and anger one that is fully deserved.

British Off West End