“It’s not what I expected”, says one of the three, initially indistinguishable men in blue shirts and brown slacks who form the entire cast of Fiji Land. I have every sympathy. On entering the BT to see a play about “the very real things that happen when cell doors shut and the world looks away”, I was rather bemused by what appeared to be the aftermath of a chaotic party in a greenhouse.
The walls and floor are covered in white plastic sheets, there’s a single table with a pack of cards (a game of solitaire is quickly abandoned as the surrealism starts to play havoc with the minds of the characters), and on two tables are rows and rows of plants. When an alarm goes off – a shrieking hellish noise that punctuates the play just too often for comfort – the plants all have to be watered.
All apart from the back row. Following arbitrary orders is the name of the game – and with nothing else to do the play fleetingly takes on a Waiting-for-Godot feel: “You smoke?” “No.” “Pity.” “You?” “No.” “Something to DO though”. The inertia of the characters forces all their (and our) concentration onto the pot plants. Tanc, played by Stephen Bisland, has his perspective so utterly damaged that that the plants become people, to the extent that they become the focus of some bizarre erotic fantasy.
When you watch Fiji Land, I should warn you, you’ll have no idea of the characters names. I only know that Tanc is called Tanc because it says so in the script. As the characters themselves will tell you, they all have no names. Apparently it’s “for the best”. What it also means is that we can be drawn into a self-generating, meta-theatrical thread of competition between who is “the first guy” and who is “the other guy”; which, whilst disconcerting at the time, becomes even more effective as we trail out of the theatre and try to discuss whatever it was that we just saw.
The acting itself was praiseworthy; the horror of the extreme body temperatures of Jake Ferretti as Grainer (I’m cooking over here”), and as Wolstead (“it’s fucking freezing”) as Matthew Trevannion sat in the same room next to apparently perfectly well-adjusted plants made me geniunly uneasy. A final moment of insanity which triggered, without giving the game away too much, some kind of ketchup-spattered makeshift brain operation, was perhaps the only point where the line between the disturbingly surreal and the humorously ridiculous broke down. But by the end of this intense, thought-provoking production, a smattering of comedy was exactly what I needed.