“Onboard a submarine, there’s a safe. Inside that safe there’s another safe. And inside that one is a letter.”
Probably my favourite section in the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history was David Greig’s The Letter of Last Resort. Simon Chandler’s civil servant is pressuring Belinda Lang’s newly installed Prime Minister to put contingency arrangements in place in case of a (nuclear) catastrophe yet as she decides what course of action is to be taken in response to whatever attack has taken place, she is pulled down into a swirl of contradictory absurdist logic.
Greig’s writing is sharply observed and extremely funny – especially in the revelation of just how the submarine commander will ascertain if Britain has been destroyed – but it also has real heart as this PM comes to terms with the gravity of the decision she has to make. Lang plays this excellently, her determination to not let her position rob her of her humanity slowly worn down by the devil’s advocate of Simon Chandler’s adviser who is always able to offer the bigger picture about what must be done as opposed to what is right.
The way in which Chandler combines a excellently dry wit with a deeply intelligent patience, even whilst forced into a roleplay situation, really makes us pay attention and see that beyond the officiousness lies an understanding that as intolerable as they may seem to some, these decisions simply have to be made given our determination to hold onto a nuclear arsenal, however reduced, and that in order to be effective – “the only rational way to behave is to be irrational”.