Nation is a play of two teenagers, Mau and Daphne (nee Miss Ermintrude Fanshaw), thrown together when Daphne’s boat travelling from England is shipwrecked on Mau’s island. Mau is the last remaining member of his tribe, and Nation is the story of Mau and Daphne’s struggle to build a new nation of their own, overcoming language barriers, vast differences in belief and culture, the struggle to keep their new Nation safe, and a battle to defeat Locaha, and evil spirit trying to kill Mau, with a candid parrot, Milton, alongside.
There are many prominent themes throughout the play, such as the constantly debated relationship between religion and science, the contrast between facts that are rarely doubted and strong belief in something there is little proof of. The play has a strong sense of faith, in the ‘grandfathers’, ‘imo’ and the ‘god anchors’, and also of love, uniting the nation, and found in unexpected places, between Daphne and Mau for example. Nation also illustrates an alterantive view on the cycle of life and death.
The play defines simultaneously the obvious differences between the Nation, and the Western world, and also the subtle underlying similarities linking the two. After certain revelations discovered by Daphne and then Mau in the ‘Grandfather Cave’, the characters in the play, and the audience watching, are made to question our own history of the western world, and the history of islands such as Mau’s in the South Pacific. We are made to reassess what we believe was the beginning of human civilisation, and which cultures we class as being scientifically knowledgeable, and truly civilised. This thought-provoking play open’s the audience’s minds to other possibilities.
It is obvious throughout the play that the elements of theatre were carefully thought out and delivered by the national theatre company, the musicians and the director, Mark Ravenhill. In the centre of the stage there is a slighting raises revolving circle, decorated to look the earth (‘you have turned the world upside down’). The globe allows a smooth transition from one scene to the next, such as when the previous scene is of Mau on his island with the ancestors, and then the globe revolves slowly around to reveal a scene of Daphne, Milton, and the shipwreck of The Sweet Judy on the opposite side.
The fact that the world is ‘uspide down’, or the opposite to how we are used to seeing it, suggests to audience that the people of Mau’s have a very different perspective on the ways of the world to the people of the western world. The three large screens at the back of the stage give varied and vibrant aesthetics to the set. At certain stages in the play, the screens we blank and dark, directing the audience’s attention to the actors at the front of the stage.