New Players' Theatre, London WC2
Opened 8 May, 2010

The music playing as we entered the theatre was a perfect summation of the situation: Marvin Gaye wondering “What’s Going On”. It must have seemed a terrific idea at the time: producers Supporting Wall invited a number of writers to come up with playlets within hours of the polls closing in Thursday’s general election, to be staged for one night only in the West End last Saturday. “The electorate have spoken,” as one character observed, but what nobody had foreseen was that what they would say was “Um…”. Consequently, by the writers’ deadline, the real drama of negotiation had hardly even begun (even as I write this review after the performance, little headway seems to have been made). These five theatrical responses, then, mirrored the general state of indecision.
Two of the pieces were versions of classics. In Rex Obano’s The Wrong Party, the character of Stanley in Pinter’s The Birthday Party became a Cockney Gordon Brown, defiantly banging his toy drum whilst being interrogated on his failure by two menacing men in sharp suits. (Biggest groan line of the evening: “Which came first, the chicken or the Clegg?”) In Phil Willmott’s Act IV, the unseating and rapid departure for Dubai of a sitting MP, leaving his staff behind in a vacuum, mirrored the final act of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, with an assortment of relationships coming to naught and the bleak prospect of nothing save another election in a few months’ time... although the campaign manager didn’t try to shoot the ex-member.
Elsewhere, Anders Lustgarten’s Bang Up portrayed a group of disenfranchised prisoners watching election-night TV, with sharp dialogue but little to say; Megan Ford’s Human Interest focused on the vacuity of party leaders’ wives’ appearances on daytime TV and imagined a major breaking news story being spiked because it wouldn’t fit the fluffy-trivia agenda of the genre; and Ché Walker’s Two Thousand And Twelve ended the evening on a dreary note, partly intentionally with its portrayal of a near-future benefits office, partly accidentally because Perry Benson’s linchpin performance failed to lift Walker’s thoughtful words off the page (almost all performers still carried scripts). And, in another fine metaphor, none of the plays offered a neat ending, but rather continuing frustration and uncertainty.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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