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Towers is the third play to be performed by VETO Productions following the excellent Helter Skelter and The Two Minds of Socrates. This was a much more ambitious piece chronicling the 102 minutes the North Tower stood after being hit by a plane in the 9/11 attacks. The play followed a group of seven people as they struggled as the building burned around them. It was a daring premise, well realised in parts, but I left The Storey feeling it could have achieved more.
We followed the characters for seventy minutes as they are trapped in the burning tower. The set was made up of two areas, a main office with office chairs, and then to the right of the space, a smaller office. This was a clever use of the space to allow the play to switch its focus, however, it was undermined by the direction. For a lot of the play, regardless of which characters were the main focus, all the characters would be engaged in conversation. This was very effective in creating a realistic environment, but the realism sacrificed the experience. It showed strength from the actors and the script that they were all in character at all times, and spoke realistic dialogue when they weren’t the main focus. But it meant that scenes the audience were meant to focus on were difficult to hear, and we weren’t sure which part of the narrative was most important.
The ending was somewhat confusing with most of the characters having left to find a way out with two characters still on stage, and it felt as if it didn’t resolve anything. The play promised to dramatise the 102 minutes the building remained standing, but only covered the first seventy minutes, ignoring perhaps the most dramatic part of the event. This is perhaps clever in the case of 9/11 where the fate of many people killed is still unresolved and we are unsure what exactly took place in the building, but the whole point of the play in dramatizing these events is to add something in its interpretation, and to try fill in the gaps of the real events. Towers did not attempt to do this, instead focusing on the characters within the office rather than the event itself. In fact, there was little reference to 9/11 in the play, obviously, it did follow the attacks, but they were very much in the background, and it could have focused on any disaster where people are trapped in a building.
Mike Narouei should be praised for writing such an ambitious script. To balance seven characters over an hour and develop aspects of all of them and cover such a difficult subject shows real talent. The actors were also all brilliant, I only wish the play had been longer so they could have had a chance to do more with their characters.
The play needed more stakes. One character had an asthma attack and survives, two other characters had a fight but there were no lasting consequences to either of these events. Some elements of social commentary were powerful such as the confrontation between a white businessman and an immigrant janitor, but there was room for more of this in the play. There needed to be some more devastating elements to match with the event itself and to inject more tension as it felt tame in parts and all implied deaths happened off stage.
As usual with VETO’s plays the sound design was excellent, I only wish they’d made more of it as it was such an effective element of the play with haunting music at the beginning and a ticking clock throughout to emphasise the real-time nature of the show.
Ultimately Towers was hugely ambitious, and it certainly proved how talented everyone involved with VETO is. However, I left the theatre disappointed. I wanted to see the show they were capable of, and this wasn’t it. But I still look forward to their next work, as they continue to make a valued contribution to the University’s arts scene.