The Just Assassins, by Albert Camus, isn’t a play for our times. Terrorism nowadays really is terrorism: creating fear by targeting ordinary people, a dark opposite of mass peaceful protest, aiming to change people’s views by making them wonder of they’re going to be next. Instead, it tells the story of a group of terrorists in 1905, plotting to assassinate a Grand Duke and unsure if killing innocents is justified if it gets the result they want. For Camus, former editor (just five years before this play was first performed in 1949) of a French Resistance newspaper, at a time when his organisation was passing information on targets to the RAF, this was a real question.
The play is cramped, set in confined spaces and with action happening elsewhere, never going out onto the streets. The dialogue is tortured and often quite pretentious: it could seem unbearably precious in some voices, but the major advantage of this production is a fine ensemble cast, with nuanced, muted acting, without a feeling of exaggeration or sensationalism: that’s left to the content. Especially notable is Sam Buchdahl as the head of the secret police: he has a lot of fun with a ludicrously sinister role, clearly defined as separate from all the other characters: even though this play has relatively little suspense (it reminded me of musical settings of the Passion) the impact of his character’s misdirection and tricksiness is startling, and the decision to dress all the terrorists in different black clothing adds to its muted, incisive atmosphere. Also, though the dates of performance in the listings section are wrong (it starts Tuesday) the information about this play’s origins are true, honest.
At the Burton Taylor Studio from 10th-14th March at 19:30. £4 for students