The Unconquered opened in a production by Stellar Quines at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews on 14 February 2007 before touring Scotland and England (including runs at The Arcola Theatre, The Traverse, the SJT.) The cast was as follows:
MOTHER, Jane Guernier
FATHER, Kevin McMonagle
GIRL, Pauline Turner
SOLDIER, Nigel Barrett
Director, Muriel Romanes
Assistant director, AC Wilson
Designer, Keith McIntyre
Costume Designer, Cat Maddocks
Lighting Designer, Jeanine Davis
Sound Designer, Peter Vilk
Voice, Linda Wise
The production was remounted the following year, opening at the Caves in Edinburgh on 14 March before playing at Dundee Rep, The Tron, The Arcola and then the 59E59 Theatre in New York as part of the Brits-off-Broadway Season 2008. The cast was as follows:
MOTHER, Alexandra Mathie
FATHER, Neil McKinven
GIRL, Nicola Harrison
SOLDIER, Neal Barry
WINNER: BEST NEW PLAY 2006/07 CRITICS AWARDS FOR THEATRE IN SCOTLAND
Torben Betts' play is highly original and invigoratingly bold. The apparent simplicity of its characterisations and setting make for a chillingly cartoonish image of social and political relations. Above all, however, it is a staggeringly poetic work of theatre, which lent itself readily to a highly memorable Stellar Quines production.
CRITICS AWARDS FOR THEATRE IN SCOTLAND 2006-07: BEST NEW PLAY
…a real pleasure…brilliantly realised…Torben Betts uses language with a mesmerising rhythm…he chooses words with the precision of a Conrad or a Naipaul… Only 90 minutes long, the scope of the play is as vast as any four-hour epic...an exhilarating roller-
coaster of powerful emotional turmoil and trenchant social and political analysis…It is grotesque, absurd, at times bleakly funny, at other times evisceratingly savage. It's proper theatre all right.
A real explosion of 21st-century theatrical energy, timely, well-crafted and unforgettable...a show set to shock audiences...bleak, brutal and frightening...the production is stalked by the great ghosts of 20th-century expressionism, absurdism and in-yer-face theatre, from Jarry and Ionesco to Steven Berkoff and Sarah Kane...the play's disturbing, political content...old-fashioned radicalism.
THE SCOTSMAN (Critic's Choice)
In his furious satire...Betts shakes the daylights out of the smarmy idea of freedom... Rather like an angry dog with a series of rats in its jaws, Mr Betts sets himself the task of killing off popular beliefs in the benevolence of Big Brother government, religion, marriage and, of course, capitalism and bourgeois consumerism.
NEW YORK TIMES
...arresting and exhilarating...performed with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it ferocity...a surreal world of heightened poetry and raw emotion... It is exactly the kind of demanding, theatrical and adventurous show you'd want to see on a UK tour.
Betts writes modern dramas that propel themselves into the mind with searing poetics, explosive re-imaginations of our society...a radical and satirical take on ideas of social propriety...Muriel Romanes's superb production of Betts's memorable new play... extraordinary staccato poetry...a bizarre hybrid of Sarah Kane's still resonating play Blasted and a Punch and Judy show...its bone-shatteringly powerful conclusion... Betts's profound and highly original theatrical voice.
So bold and so brilliantly confident that one is entirely seduced by Betts's satirical vision... a compelling, cerebral cartoon...as if Ralph Steadman had turned his hand to animating one of the late, more explicitly political plays of Harold Pinter...The entire script reads like a dark poem of political hope and fear, and, ultimately, of human degradation and defiance... If there is hope in his drama, it is that things of beauty (in this case, Betts' exquisite language) can still be forged in the darkness. If ever we needed proof that the artist to whom the playwright is closest is the poet, it is here.
GLASGOW SUNDAY HERALD
There is a touch of the Lewis Carroll to Torben Betts' new play...(it) spins giddily between the surreal, the mundane and a ghastly graphic reality...a contorted, skewed world... Betts' genius with language, verbal imagery and sense of structure ...cruel, comic and profoundly disturbing...this challenging play... the cast find all the poetic glory in Betts' script. A production of great power and resonance.
A passionate and visceral political satire with a bleak demeanour…Betts’ angry forensics, tempered by a rich and rhythmic poetic language, have much to say to this Tesco and Ikea-drugged generation…the savage indignation of the piece…Like some Augustan
satirist, Betts concentrates upon our capacity for consumption over analysis… This glowering vision of what the west is putting in the bank for itself posits no easy solutions... A sudden reorientation of perspective... Muriel Romanes’ splendid production is...both aesthetically and politically challenging, combining as it does Betts’ Marcuseian anger at our surrogation of organic human happiness for shallow material gain with a wild poetic style...this relentlessly anti-naturalistic piece shows a buccaneering spirit and courage that would put larger-scale companies to shame.
THE LIST (Hitlist)
...exciting and original...theatrical, powerful, surreal, blackly humorous and frightening... 90 minutes of astonishing, thought-provoking drama... Betts' writing is hilarious and lyrical, bleak and mordant...poetic.
...one of the most original and inventive works of recent years...refreshingly funny and awesomely artistic...it soars. This is the most entertainment you will find for $20...
Powerfully poetic and disturbingly familiar, playwright Torben Betts pits truth against complacency with enough wry humor to easily transfix the audience for an uninterrupted 75 minutes. Using his own blend of parody, Greek chorus, June Cleaver, and teenage rage, Betts comes up with a potent brew that is surprising, compelling, and unpredictable... Familiar, horrifying, ludicrous, fascinating. The playwright's clever use of word association propels the story at an astounding speed... A breathless and impressive ride. Do not miss this extraordinary production.
NYTHEATRE.COM (Highly recommended)
Energetic, vibrant and starkly cynical... Betts sets up a fantastical, surreal world... brilliantly orchestrated.
The Unconquered stakes its claim as one of the oddest plays seen for some considerable time...Like Alfred Jarry's Ubu dragged kicking and screaming into the future in a collaboration between Steven Berkoff and Sarah Kane, it pokes and prods you to give it some attention...a neo-expressionist production... audacious...startling...
THE HERALD, Choice
...a gloriously absurd theatrical skewering of patriarchy, complacency and self-serving hypocrisy...the fast-paced rhythmical dialogue beguiles and hypnotises while packing a real emotional punch under the jabs...funny, powerful, poetic and with sound
politics... pretty near flawless. It poses questions unlike any other work I've seen and does so with a sharper intelligence than any TV drama.
…offers everything you would hope to find in a progressive piece of theater…rich and demanding…intense…the subject matter suggests political urgency…highly-charged theater that prefers complexity to easy answers… brisk, direct and punchy… breathless
...inspiring...this fresh, sparkling play...the writing is so clever that even the most ordinary of utterances comes out like a prophecy...black humour so sharp that it rips the characters to shreds...this difficult multi-layered dialogue...breathtaking...this excellent piece of theatre.
UK THEATRE NETWORK
...well worth seeing...intellectually demanding, politically engaging and aesthetically arresting...an unsentimental study of human behaviour under extreme pressure...this expressionistic pressure-cooker of a play...a vigorous and funny riot of language
that demands attention... a distinctive and commendable show.
HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS
…forceful… a prolonged, increasing howl of rage….vigorous language…a powerful study of individual revolt against society and political forces. The impact comes close at times to Howard Barker in its fury…full of the savagery and velocity the situation and style demand.
…more rewarding than Sarah Kane’s Blasted…an excellent cast, intense dialogue and simple but striking set make for a fast-moving, arresting performance…the exhilarating pace and energy of the language.
Betts' writing is breathtaking as is the vocal precision and resonance with which the actors perform his words…The pace of the play alternates, constantly twisting and turning, with heavy repetition and revealing monologues throughout, finally building to a booming and fraught last scene where words become useless and blend into screams… Betts’ play is stylish, energetic and boiling over with passion.
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
With masterful use of language, staging and set this is a complex and provocative piece of theatre...It is the cartoon-like style and wickedly dark humour of the play that make it truly unique...handled with originality and subtlety... The real success of this production is a wonderful script by Torben Betts who weaves and repeats dialogue like poetry, with barbed insults and word play like a Dr Seuss for adults. The resulting rhythm and pace is mesmerising... Challenging, yet truly enjoyable, with a superb script, strong visual style and a vibrant cast, The Unconquered has the potential to be a modern classic.
...there is real victory here in the marriage of Betts’ dialogue with designer Keith McIntyre’s black-ink-outline set and cut-out props... It is monumentally gratifying to see a work which does not preach to its audience...unflinchingly clinical...dry and humorous... engaging and important...powerful... incisive...refreshing...
ROGUES AND VAGABONDS
The marionette-like performances and stark, monochrome set effectively expose the false and arbitrary nature of the things we build our lives on.
With a Seussful of allegory and a Churchill of rhythm...this brute-force allegory is one of the most distinct and comically unsettling shows of the season.
NEW THEATER CORPS
The Unconquered, uncompromising and daringly consistent, is theater to be savored.
...quite brilliant and savagely, excruciatingly painfully, funny... Torben Betts is just about the most original and extraordinary writer of drama we have...a boldly visionary poet...a political Beckett...there is something of the cartoon-like harsh brilliance of Ted Hughes Crow...a flamingly original writer we ignore at our peril. This play should be seen everywhere.
...a fast-moving satirical portrait of patriarchy, political indolence and over-reaction...a reflection of war's long-reaching effects on the domestic front, demonstrating the encompassing ambiguity of a public out of touch with reality. With great wit, poetics and charm, Betts sketches the self-hypocrisy that materializes during times of opaque identity and societal partition.
THEATRE IN CHICAGO
I don't know which I find more horrific, the violent ending of this absurdist attack on Western hypocrisy or being implicated as one of the hypocrites...Torben Betts's unhinged yet precise 2007 black comedy...Beata Pilch's production is pitiless and sharp, with extraordinary performances by Tiffany Bedwell as Girl and Kevin Lucero Less as Soldier.
CHICAGO READER (Recommended)
A hyper-stylized retro TV-land acid trip meets poetically stark and academic sociopolitical subversion...a feverish rendering of this chaotic reality that draws us in on the visual level and then knocks our psyches back and forth... Funny, frightening and frenetic, this hypno-morality play packs more than loud laughs and literate lines, it exposes the easily twisted and vulnerably dangerous superficiality of lives lived unconsciously serving mainstream convention...Beckett’s Endgame meets Orwell’s 1984 meets Max Headroom set to 1980s candy punk pop... There is NOTHING natural about this production and the cast delivers the toxic artificial ingredients to bizarre perfection...Betts’s cynically fantastical story represents contemporary shallowness challenged by erudite intellectualism crushed by high-tech fascism... fuelled by mischievous cleverness on crystal meth... This is NOT your mother’s theater, unless she happens to be a maniacal lunatic or an insane genius.
CHICAGO STAGE REVIEW