Two women, separated by thousands of miles and a hundred years – but both held captive for doing life-altering work. Edith Cavell, a British nurse, smuggled soldiers out of Belgium in the First World War; Edith Martin, a fictitious journalist, is the prisoner of militants in the Middle East. Mary Rose delivers a compelling performance for both characters, even as she struggles with a somewhat average script.
The opening scene is powerful. Martin is on a chair in a small room with a tiny broken window; a bag is over her head, and she's visibly shaking. In the background, one can hear the sounds of the morning azaan. The contrast between the peaceful music of the call for prayer and the plight of a helpless captive is a grim reminder of the condition in many parts of the world today, where atrocities on women in the name of religion are common. And while we're plainly in an Islamic country, I appreciated the balancing references towards fanaticism among Christians; this is mature writing.
The 70-minute production contains a mix of Martin's seemingly-endless 29th week in captivity, her memories of childhood and growing up, and scenes from the life of Cavell. Every morning Martin – or Edi as she likes to be called – rolls a die to set her 'theme' for the day. Sometimes it is recollection of lists, sometimes workouts. If it is a six, then she can take her life into her own hands with a rusty blade. Or she can use it to harm the man who brings her food – and rapes her, often.
Some scenes are haunting. An example comes when Martin hears footsteps and forces herself to retch, because 'a man has to be really frustrated to rape a woman with food poisoning.' Using the lantern light as a mike was also a striking technique.
But what holds this play back is the part about Edith Cavell. She doesn't get 50% of stage time, as I'd expected; her part is much smaller, and her lines are few. And aside from being a prisoner, she really has very little in common with Martin. One is embroiled in a war, with its conventions and rules, while the other is a victim of targeted terrorism. One is a selfless nurse; the other's motivation for journalism was the awareness of 'manipulating people with words'. Edi herself admits to lacking the courage that Cavell showed as she was put in front of the firing squad – understandably so, as she lies forgotten, and 'people watching TV with their feet up moved on 27 weeks ago'.
The rapid-fire scene changes, with short bursts of action, are well done, and the issues raised from the point of view of journalists are well made. Rose is a talented actor and the background score is effective too. 12.10.15 isn't transformative but it's well worth a watch.