The Zero Hour

Katie Beswick (@ElfinKate) went to see Imitating the Dog’s The Zero Hour at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Not to be recommended for the emotionally vulnerable, but worth the ticket price for everyone else, she thinks.

The last thing one needs on one’s sixth consecutive Valentine ’s Day sans lover, reeling from the serotonin low of a red wine hangover, is an evening at the theatre watching an apocalyptic version of (an already fairly bleak period of) history. Particularly not to be recommended, I’ll tell you now, is an apocalyptic version of the past told in jagged, disordered fragments and interspersed with sci-fi style theoretical analyses of the universe spoken in Chinese. But there you go, sometimes you get exactly what you don’t need and find you quite enjoyed it anyway.

The Zero Hour is set immediately either side of Midnight, May 8th 1945 – the moment the Germans surrendered to the Allies, bringing about the end of World War Two. The title takes its name from the German phrase used to describe this moment: Stunde Null. The Walter Benjamin quotation at the top of the programme – ‘To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it the way it really was. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger’ – hints at the way the stories are fragmented to offer a version of WW2 that might resonate now, in a landscape of global peril. It’s not so much a play as a series of scenes, presented as though they were being shot on a film set, with the stories of the characters set within a range of potential outcomes of the war.

It is completely possible to watch the entire thing and leave the auditorium feeling slightly baffled, and also seriously freaked out. I know this, because I’m typing these words having left the theatre less than an hour ago, trying to shake off the creeping unease that the final moments of the performance left as a stain on my emotional canvas. At this moment, I’m writing in bed with all the lights on because I know that, once I submit to the darkness, bad thoughts will begin happen. So thanks Imitating the Dog, you probably should have given me some kind of warning.

I wouldn’t want you to think I’m advising you against seeing the show though. It was imaginative, slickly performed and important. I found it beautiful and compelling; particularly in terms of its form and staging. The symmetry of the composition and the muted use of colour were striking, as was the way in which the juxtaposition of live and recorded performance mediums called the role of theatre into question. In fact, I would highly recommend it as essential viewing for anyone sure or unsure of the role of live performance in an increasingly technological world.

I’m just giving you the warning no one gave me: steel yourself. The Zero hour is a little bit horror.

The Zero Hour plays at West Yorkshire Playhouse until February 16th. You can buy tickets here.