Nic Kent drops his final theatre bomb

Before Nicholas Kent leaves the Tricyle Theatre after a 28-year-long career he will stage an epic foray into one of the biggest issues facing the world today

The nuclear threat is an enduring and ever-relevant topic. Today’s talk is of Ahmadinejad’s Iran and the veiled threat from North Korea and China, set against the simmering backdrop of events in the past like Hiroshima and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As discussion about the funding of Trident presses on, it seems appropriate that ‘political theatre’ the Tricycle should bring information to its hungry audience on the nuclear issue.

And as he makes his exit from the theatre after 28 years, Nicolas Kent seems just the man for the job. Before his departure in May, Kent will stage The Bomb: A partial History. A project set in two parts, with work from ten playwrights. It is an epic exit by the director, who has built up the reputation of the theatre in Kilburn as a political playhouse. “It was wonderful to feel that the Tricycle was being used as a political forum,” says Kent. ”I thought this was an important issue. We are coming to a point where we have to make a decision about whether to spend billions on renewing trident and we felt it was important to have a debate. ”

The topic was suggested by Shirley Williams, who at the time was Adviser on nuclear proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The idea became bigger for Kent once he had taken the Afghan season over to America, where the situation with Russia had reached fever pitch and the project was cemented. “Everyone kept asking me what the next project was going to be,“ says Kent.

The production comes in two parts. The First Blast covers the period 1940-1992. With work from five playwrights it covers the creation of the bomb and the ensuing suspicion across the world that its presence causes. This part focuses on the situation in Russia, China, Germany, the UK, America and Japan. In researching the project, over a period of two years, Kent has uncovered facts which have surprised him. “I found out lots of things that people don’t generally seem to know. Churchill had a veto on the atom bomb for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and had to give permission for that to be dropped. The British cooperation with the Americans was veiled in secrecy and kept from the War Cabinet. The decision about Britain going it alone on the Nuclear deterrent, Atlee kept from his cabinet. A lot of this has been done secretly for many years.”

The second part, entitiled Present Dangers and covering the period 1992-2012 focuses on Iran, Israel, North Korea and the current Trident question. In order to be current, up-to-date information is added constantly to the production, reflecting even recent changes like current negotiations with Iran and the change of government in North Korea. Defence journalist Richard Norton-Taylor has also contributed verbatim information about present nuclear dangers that will be integrated into the performance and discussion that make up the two-evening production.

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Kent knows the audience he has entertained for 28 years is ready to face the questions the production will pose. “It will be challenging, very thought provoking, but also very entertaining- there are a lot of plays in the cycle that are tremendously funny. In the way that Dr Strangelove as a film made a huge impression on people because it was wacky and very mad- but still showed the nuclear dangers in tremendous relief, I have high hopes that this project will do the same thing. I hope to really make people think about whether we should be going ahead with Trident or not.”

When the curtain drops on this production, Kent will depart from the theatre he has nurtured, sent with good wishes from staff and fans of his work. He’s already had about 200 emails from well-wishers- which for him has been “staggering and extraordinary”. It was a premature departure- forced by the cuts in funding for the theatre from the Arts Council- a political battle that Kent has decided to leave. “The age I am inevitably there comes a time when someone will have to take over. The feeling was that, given the situation with the cuts I just couldn’t quite face the enormous fight it would be to get money back for the theatre and to get it back onto an even keel again. I’m very optimistic that Indhu Rubasingham will get more support from the Arts Council because I think they have realised, slightly belatedly perhaps, how important the theatre is.”

The Bomb will run at The Tricycle until April 1