A co-production with Northern Stage, Common Wealth’s I Have Met the Enemy (and the Enemy Is Us) is a bold and passionate work, but one that never quite coheres into a compelling experience.
Welcomed into Byker Community Centre, the audience is invited to an arms fair, seduced with offers of weapons big and small. It’s an intriguing concept, but like so much of the production, it doesn’t completely translate. The acoustics of the space work against the community cast, often making them hard to hear, and a lack of any audience direction results in a lot of aimless milling around – for such a short piece, there’s an unpardonable number of such longueurs, sapping the momentum.
Although touching on Britain’s disproportionate role in the arms trade, it’s far stronger when focusing on the lived experiences of its main cast. Here, small moments of striking veracity shine: former soldier Alexander Eley guides us on a night raid, Palestinian Mo’min Swaitat shares his tips on getting through a military checkpoint unchallenged, and Yemeni artist Shatha Altowai (via pre-recorded film) talks about a home life cruelly disrupted by war.
It’s staged with real flare – Andy Purves’ lighting and Jamie Grier’s sound design are effective, and Robbie Thomson has created an eerily futuristic space, metronomes clicking with almost sentient menace. But uneven pacing and a scattershot script dilute its effect. Immersive theatre is by its nature fluid, but a little more structure would have made for a more dynamic show.