CONTINENTAL DIVIDE:
Mothers Against / Daughters Of The Revolution
Barbican Theatre, London EC2
Opened 20 March, 2004

David Edgar is among the most thoughtful and intelligent and the least shouty and tub-thumping of British political playwrights.  But Iím afraid you wouldnít know it from this pair of prolonged talkfests.  Firstly, their subject matter is American (because thatís where the commission came from), and secondly theyíre so over-directed that itís often hard to listen to properly.

At first I thought director Tony Taccone had taken a deliberate decision to make everyone ďspeechifyĒ so that, as with Brecht, we donít get distracted by the story, and focus on the content.  In fact, though, all the orating makes it harder to stay tuned in to whatís being said rather than how itís said.  And arenít people already disillusioned with political oratory? The staging needs to solve this, not indulge it.

The pair of plays look at the same election for governor in a Pacific state (Oregon, basically, though never named) from the Republican and the Democratic viewpoints respectively.  In Mothers Against, a Republican candidate with too many scruples has to be bullied into the party spin machine.  In Daughters Of The Revolution, an old student radical rakes up his Ď60s past with repercussions for the present.

Both plays involve the conflict between shining individual ideals and murky reality, and how ďtough choicesĒ usually involve selling out personal principles for a shot at power.  The difference is that the Republican Vine familyís quarrels are largely confined to those around the table now.  In contrast, Michael Bernís quest for the truth on the left is plainly a symbol for a whole generationís doubts.

In Daughters Of The Revolution, viewers in the know can identify specific members of the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground and the like, all thinly fictionalised.  However, Edgar keeps nudging you about it, so you canít avoid the symbolism even if you canít decode it all.  It also takes too long labouring the point that todayís eco-warriors are the heirs of that radical generation.

As Daughters... goes on, Edgar writes with increasing passion of his own liberal views, then has to ratchet up the contrary side to make it fair, and the whole thing becomes an exchange of stump speeches, and frankly drags.  My heart is with the lefties, but I have to admit that the Republicans in Mothers Against get the better lines.  In the end the plays donít examine the crisis in politics, just restate it.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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