The eponymous infant looms large in the Cherry Tree’s latest production, though the child never makes it on-stage. Instead, Cranleigh students had the privilege of witnessing an adult theatrical company stage a piece of contemporary writing, as “The Infant” ran for two nights in the Vivian Cox Theatre before the Easter Holidays began.
Each night’s audience greeted an eerie spectacle as they were ushered into the VCT: a hooded, hand-cuffed, and occasionally shaking man tied to a chair. The audience found themselves asking questions (often audibly as the last stragglers took their seats) as to what this man had done to get himself in this position. The tone of enquiry which was set, without a word said, is testament to Becky Caitlin and George Bancroft-Livingston’s assured direction. Such questions, and indeed the palpable tension, were brought to a crescendo as the jaunty music (an original composition by Angus MacRae) became increasingly free-form and upbeat as the lights came up on this sinister opening scene.
This man’s crime? The creation of a picture with the potential to bring down society as we know it. There is one problem, however: the picture appears to have been drawn by a four year old. Castogan and Samedi’s interrogation, with disorientating and often senseless questioning of the captive Cooper, certainly had an air of Kafkaesque menacing authority (Samedi admitting this is ‘a trial’, if not quite ‘The Trial’). But, the jet-black hood and hanging duck-tape achieved a more contemporary resonance: in 2012 Guantanamo Bay is still operative in this post-9/11 age of CIA rendition.
Yet Cooper’s often realistic questioning is juxtaposed with a Surrealist streak. The interpretation of a four year old’s behaviour (silences, tantrum, demands for attention) as “textbook” hallmarks of a psychopathic terrorist earned some of the biggest laughs of the night. Moreover, the evidence brought forward includes terrorist literature found at the scene of the crime: as Humpity Dumpity becomes a clear political allegory for social restructuring, biting satire reminiscent of Chris Morris. Adam Wood as Samedi managed to present both a convincing portrayal of bureaucratic menace and the timing needed to pull off these absurd contrasts.
As Cooper’s wife comes in for interrogation, Lilly (played by Cranleigh’s Theatre Artist in Residence Lizzie Bourne) portrayed both an outsider’s instinctive dismissal, and a mother’s fears, with conviction. Castogan may promise her that “the truth will set you free”, but this is something which appears increasingly hard to come by as the production progresses. Castogan and Samedia’s pasts, names, beliefs (and smoking habits) become interchangeable in a Pinteresque fashion, and the unknowability at the heart of the play was epitomised by two interrogators’ take on the liar’s paradox, which was taken to the Nth degree, with Cem Aytacli demonstrating impressive linguistic dexterity and vocal control to pull it off.
Matthew Leventhall’s split staging allowed for an innovative dual-interrogation scene, which ended on an ambiguous note as the hood(s?) were re-applied. Castogan’s setting free of Lilly might represent humanity more positively (“God’s greatest achievement”), with redemptive possibilities, yet Samedi views his nomenclature, and God’s sixth task, as “God’s greatest failure”. In the silence before the warm applause, it was clear “The Infant’s” questions had taken root in many of the minds of the audience.