As a subject, bureaucracy is resistant to dramatisation. How do you construct a compelling narrative out of several well-dressed people sitting around a table discussing legal documents? In their new play, Oasis of Doubt, writer Roberto Garcia Saez and director Alina Polichuk attempt to solve this problem mainly through the application of humour. We open with slapstick, with a man – the investigator Paul Harrison – struggling to adjust the height of his office chair; later, a different character – the putatively corrupt diplomat Kristina Jones – will leap onto a table and present her (clothed) backside to the audience. I must admit I found these moments to be far less amusing than the play’s dialogue, which was witty without coming across as self-satisfied, elegant without without coming across as artificial.
Oasis of Doubt is a frenetic, restless-seeming play. Necessarily so, since all of its action is confined to a single room – an interrogation room. Kristina Jones is accused of exploiting her position as the head of a UN project to establish wells in Sub-Saharan Africa for personal financial gain. The two people interrogating her are Hilde Burns and the already mentioned Paul Harrison. Of these three characters, Jones – prowling around the stage like the villain from a pantomime – is easily the most memorable. Since Harrison is depicted as being fumbling and hopeless, the true conflict occurs between Burns and Jones. The scene in which they are left alone together is the strongest in the play.
When watching Oasis of Doubt, it is inevitable that political scandals of recent years will be close to mind. We live in a century in which such happenings are already regarded as a kind of entertainment, in which the boundaries between private and public life are becoming increasingly difficult to discern. Saez gives acknowledgement to both of these realities by the way in which his characters are themselves engaged in a performance, with behaviour being modified on account of whether or not the camera recording the interrogation has been activated. Oasis of Doubt is also adroit in how it treats modern technology, an area in which many recent novels and plays have been disastrous, either underemphasising the importance of such things as social media or using them as a mere gimmick (the production of A Picture of Dorian Grey that so cleverly replaces the painting with an Instagram page). Polichuk has fun with it: when a character’s phone rings early on, it is followed by a pause in which they then gaze out into the audience, leading everyone seated there to gaze in turn amongst one-another, wondering whose it could be. Jacob John Shale 25th March 2022