It is the year 2050 – a utopia of eternal youth and perfect health, but with one big catch. Our own fixed expiry date. People reaching the end of their licensed age must submit to a government controlled euthanasia program. Today is the day of Will’s funeral. The day on which he will finally taste the Wine of India.
Often I can be seen coming out of a production of something gushing with praise, or spitting venom depending on the content. When I’m left stumped, its usually for a reason that a production has affected me in some way. Hand Over Fist has been one such production this Fringe and Wine of India was another. In this case, it was the seriously meaty questions and issues raised in Wine of India that prompted a lot of thought from me and hopefully from you as well.
Wine of India has been something of an enigma for many over the years. Originally broadcast as part of the Wednesday Play strand in 1970 on BBC1, the serial was never repeated and the videotape wiped shortly after transmission. No pictures exist of the production either with Scytheplays and Lass Productions giving you an extremely rare chance to chance this story live.
It begins with a bizarre family gathering – and to start with, you’re not entirely sure what for. There’s lots of talk of grandchildren, which seems impossible when said grandchildren seem to be younger their grandparents. But it quickly becomes evident that rejuvenation and youth are abundant in this society. Such luxuries come at a high price – having to taste the Wine of India, a state-sponsored act of suicide.
Taran Knight and Morag Peacock take the lead as Will and Julie, greeting their extended family. Both are convincing: Knight brings steel and conviction to Will balancing against Julie’s nervousness which Peacock plays with understated strength. In their bizarre family is Will Hutchby whose character’s demand for knowledge leads to some searching questions whilst Gemma Ryan and Luke Helly’s characters dance around the minefield of relationships. Carole Bardsley steals the show as an unwelcome guest leading to a grotesque scene between her and Liam Grunshaw, superbly jaw-dropping in its nature and a highlight of the play.
Kneale’s script has his trademark black humour and foresight of where the world was headed. There is much discussion of the nature of relationships – in this society couples ‘pair-bond’. Marriage is an entirely separate and somewhat alien notion in this society. In an age where resources are becoming increasingly scarce, Will’s comment that “we cost more than we can give back” has never rung more true. Wine of Indiais a play that raises questions, and provokes discussion.
It may have be seen as a curio back on its original transmission, but it has never been more relevant than today. Indeed, Kneale and Scytheplays/Lass Productions have been a commanding match after last year’s acclaimed Year of the Sex Olympics – a play that foresaw the rise of reality television. Wine of India is different from the edge of your seat feeling of Sex Olympics that its intensity slowly burns throughout it’s length. It is no less thought provoking and engaging however. This is deep, worthy and rich material to be mined.
Its also as close as you’ll get to the original experience of Wine of India. Dan Thackeray’s direction is faithful to the theatrical roots, with immaculate staging given how many performers there are. It is testament to Scytheplays and Lass Productions adherence to authenticity with the retro titles yet despite the retro styling Ross Kelly’s adaptation feels fresh and new.
Scarily uncanny in its foresight, cerebral, dark and funny, Wine of India is a rediscovered and polished gem of a piece. I doubt there will be anything else quite like it during this fringe festival and for that reason alone requires your attention.
Photography by Ben Dobbs.