A fault line is a break in the Earth’s surface that is formed between two shifting masses of rock. The area is unstable, concealing a deep fragility and is the cause of most earthquakes. But, it is also a potentially disruptive division or area of contention. In Ali Taylor’s new play, Fault Lines, currently running at Hampstead Theatre, we are presented with both definitions.
Abi, a Brit of Pakistani descent, wakes up in a tent amidst the aftershock of the office Christmas party. Gathering her clothes, she is joined by Nick who is overjoyed to have finally got his girl. Abi, however, is less than thrilled, as she is about to embark on matrimony. Within minutes, they are joined by Ryan, the office intern, who informs them that an earthquake has occurred in Pakistan and that their boss, Pat, will be in shortly.
As the three employees at Disasters Relief, a disaster response charity, clean up the carnage of the pervious night, little time is spent considering the plight of the people on the ground in Pakistan. Nick and Abi are at each other’s throat, one feeling rejected and the other annoyed at her own stupidity. In walks Pat with marching orders to help the survivors of the crisis. She wants tents on the ground within 48 hours on the eve of Christmas. And the race is on with rival Oxfam.
The wonderful world of competing charities is exposed to the elements as the four colleagues attempt to locate a Pakistani tent supplier, worry about their funding base and disparage other charities. But, paperwork and processes, the bane of any office worker would impede the tent delivery so out with the normal precaution and in with expediency. Will they be first on the ground with their logo plastered on every tent and thus ensure funding for another year?
Ali Taylor’s comedy exposes the dilemmas of the charity world where more is spent on marketing to ensure funding and donation than on the ground and where your reputation is almost more important than your actual results. The massaging of effectiveness reports is a task for a creative writer, something Ryan points out clearly. With the spectre of the previous night’s cataclysm hanging over everything, Nick and Ali represent the two fractures worlds of men vs. women, East vs. West, Christians vs. Muslims, empathy vs. pragmatism, political correctness vs. actual feelings, good vs. bad. And ultimately explores how good people can actually do bad things.
The play is both very funny and contemporary to our time. Lisa Spirling directs the play perfectly. Natalie Dew’s Abi is compelling as the embarrassed one night stand girl who wants to do good but fails. Samuel James, as Nick, is full of energy and jaded realism about the business they are in. While Alex Lawther is absolutely mesmerising as the very young, shy and slightly nerdy Ryan, who is actually more astute than anyone ever imagined. Olivier Award-winner Nichola McAuliffe, as Pat, is full of do-gooder comments and blissfully unaware of the actual going-ons in the office. She represents perfectly the money side of the business, which cares little for the actual messiness of charity work. The set in the round, by Polly Sullivan, is as unassuming and tattered as I imagine a charity office would be. The play runs until January 4 and I would catch it if you can.