Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Review A View From Islington North

A View From Islington North
Five Political Satires
The Mother by Mark Ravenhill
Tickets Are Now On Sale by Caryl  Churchill
The Accidental Leader by Alistair Beaton
Ayn Rand Takes A Stand by David Hare
How To Get Ahead In Politics by Stella Feehilly

The State We're In

A View From Islington North seemed a promising title. Maybe, we thought, containing some of the irony we detected in John Osborne's lawyer narrator in the other political play seen the same day.  But what emerged was a curiously neutered set of playlets with Caryl Churchill's Tickets Are Now On Sale a slick but dispiriting reflection for us of the show itself.

For those who go often to the theatre, all these writers' names are "brands" and certainly their styles in these playlets fo the most part are instantly recognizable. Something Churchill's brief play oddly, if maybe unintentionally, reflects on.

In front of a window, with a countryside scene straight out of a healthy yoghurt or cholesterol lowering margarine commercial, sits a tall, dark and handsome man (Steve John Shepherd). A frisky blonde (Sarah Alexander), modern (she wears shapely, tight fitting trousers!) comes into his space periodically to discuss their relationship in glossier and glossier business and advertising-speak, divided by airy chimes as if sections of their love talk were an advertising break.

It's simple, quick and effective, but in the words of German poet Hans Magnus Enzenberger, We know we know ...  And all that talk of brands, well it crossed our mind, that was exactly what was happening here. Rather than a dissection of attitudes across the smallest but arguably one of the most influential constituencies in the country, the evening felt sold on names and left behind by regular topical sketch shows such as long-running Newsrevue

Like Caryl Churchill's play, Mark Ravenhill's play The Mother had its premiere at The Royal Court theatre some years ago.

Two soldiers, one an older woman (Jane Wymark), the other a young man (Joseph Prowen), have arrived at the home of a soldier to break the worst possible news to his mother (Sarah Alexander).

Well, the mother turns out to be a dressing-gowned dysfunctional, a diagnosed depressive who uses a series of expletives and reverses her status from victim to aggressor before expressing, alone, her pain. It's a good idea but the stereotype "woman on a sink estate" makes for a less than convincing satire.

In fact, the far more intriguing female character is the 50 something childless female informant, a career soldier whose few words made us wonder about her life.  And what about the toll on the informants and the relationship between them as they go from door to door, if the same folks are used all the time? 

One of three new plays The Accidental Leader by Alistair Beaton  felt like well-worn territory, ground already covered by Yes Minister and The Thick Of It when parliament as sitcom still felt newish.  Albeit even with the latter we'd already had The New Statesman and (the British) quasi satirical House of Cards An MP (Bruce Alexander) is coordinating the troops to oust the Labour leader when the best-laid plans fall apart with the biggest blow when even youngster Ollie (Joseph Prowen) understands whose goose is well and truly cooked.

Ann Mitchell's big and blowsy Russian-accented Ayn Rand considerably livens up proceedings in David Hare's riff on the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Steve John Shepherd with perhaps deliberately some of the same mannerisms as Mr Perfect in Carly Churchill's earlier piece) and Theresa May (Jane Wymark) given lessons in novelistic free market politics and economics. But once we catch on to the premise, any wit seeps away to leave only the performance (albeit a memorable one).

The reverses of fortune in Stella Feehily's How To Get Ahead In  Politics  also have a familiar feel with Bruce Alexander as an MP again but this time a successful Chief Whip protecting at any cost the party's reputation,  covering up for habitual sexual harassment offences and chronic alcoholism.

We struggled to find any conclusions or questions posed about the view from Islington North. The plays ranged from the predictable to the slick and,, directed by Max Stafford-Clark, the staging was skilfully unobtrusive. Yet it felt more like a scattergun display of wares, ending with a chorus of Billy Bragg's No Buddy, No, than pieces, either individually or overall, with real bite.  If you go, determined to be entertained by star name writers, it may well work for you. But otherwise it only just about slips into an amber light.

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