Image supplied by Love Song Productions
2nd May 1997 is play which isn’t really a play moreover a collection of 3 mini plays (over repetition of the word play, oops). So, I thought, when it comes to reviewing its recent revival at the Burton Taylor Studio, I should examine each mini-political drama individually and in (devilish) detail:
- The Tories
No prizes for subtly on the handling of the Conservative party here, it was like Spitting Image on steroids. However, I do love Spitting Image, so I wasn’t necessarily complaining. Yes, the heavily stereotyped posh accents combined questionably with the exaggerated shaky timbre of old age was rather irritating at first. However, once you get past this – and you’ve got to look past the comedic poshness of any Tory MP to take them seriously, right? – the performance itself was emotional and engaging.
First, we meet Karan Lawani’s Robert, the disgraced MP who is anticipating a big fall from grace in the upcoming election (spoiler Tony Blair is going to win). Lawani is given some big lines to deliver, one of his opening lines being ‘I’m not sure what touching is friendly anymore’ and he manages well. I don’t think I could say some of the things he says with a straight face, or without vomiting. Conveying Robert’s ethically questionable attitude- like seriously there is a moment where he seems to get sexually aroused by his daughter wearing a bikini – without falling into stereotypes and cliches is a difficult task and Lawani manages brilliantly (if we ignore the accent and his tragic attempt to fake a coughing fit). He brings to Robert a subtly and class that would certainly have impressed Jack Thorne.
At Robert’s side is his long-suffering wife Marie (Céline Barclay). Hers really is a performance of two halves. At the start she is stunning. Despite having very very few lines, far too few given the sheer length of Robert’s monologues (but then I guess this is a piece of social commentary on the nature of Tory marriages), she is a real scene stealer who manages to command the stage even when speaking from the wings. You can really feel how Robert depends on her for strength and support. Barclay looks, moves, and sounds every inch the middle-class housewife. Although, it did irritate me mildly that the whole first scene had her putting on makeup and jewellery to go to bed, it felt as though the directors were struggling to think of something stereotypically feminine but sufficiently menial to get Marie to do while Robert rambled – however, I appreciate this is nit-picking. The second half of Barclay’s performance, while still solid, did fall slightly into the realms of melodrama as we saw Marie bitch about their broken marriage. Enjoyable, yes, but did have the energy of Theoden’s wailing in the second Lord of the Rings film (though maybe this was what they were going for, although I think it’s unlikely).
However, all in all I enjoyed watching the real housewives of the conservative party as much as I’m ever going to enjoy watching Tories bitch about their first world problems. I’d call this a good opening.
- The Lib Dems
The Tories were great, but the mini-play was, on the whole, frustratingly slow and lacking in action. I’m prepared to forgive this. The actors were playing basically-retired (and, for Lawani, morbidly ill) figures.
When we switched to the Liberal Democrat drama (I know combining drama with the phrase liberal democrat does feel somewhat oxymoronic), the audience was treated to blasting club music, flashing lights and two characters who seem to be halfway into a one-night stand. It was a brilliantly refreshing -and very necessary- chance in pace. Yet, there’s a caveat. The audience very quickly learn that absolutely no funky business is going to be taken place. This is partly because, as I was told by Hari Bravery (more on him when we get to Labour), welfare were ‘very tight’ on what could and could not be included in a student play – thank god! – however, it was also because Iris Bowdler’s Sarah, in her drunkenness, ends up ‘going home with the wrong guy’. So instead of being treated to ‘sexy James’, she finds herself in the bedroom of the liberal democrat super fan, so obsessed that he is wearing a yellow jumper, Ian (Tom Baker). Ian is adorable, he is perfect for the political ambiance of this scene. I remember turning to my friend and us both saying ‘yep, Liberal Democrat’. But, while Ian is adorable and sweet and kind of cute in a dorkish sort of way, he is certainly not sexy.
However, this scene isn’t about the sex. Which is good because there really wasn’t any chemistry at all between Bowdler and Baker. It is instead about two people, who feel like they are never listened to because they are so heavily stereotyped by others, coming together and having natural, authentic conversation – albeit one which arises out of the most contrived of circumstances. Iris is the ‘easy slut’ – labelled it so many times she begins to call herself by the same name (which is probably the most heart-breaking moment of the whole play), Ian the childish mummy’s boy. Once we are done with the silliness of the will-they won’t-they (they obviously won’t) sex business, and Bowdler stops trying – and failing – to be Phoebe Waller Bridge, the acting is really beautiful. Difficult topics like slut shaming, emotional failure, shame and the death of a parent are handled with class and nuance. By the end of the play, I was finding myself forgetting I was watching a piece of student drama. However, I was quickly reminded again when the scene ended in a silly freeze frame, which lasted far too long, illuminated by mustard yellow lighting. Given how Ian mentioned the liberal democrats in basically every third sentence and the scene ended with them both watching the party broadcast, thrusting yet more yellow in our faces seemed entirely unnecessary.
However, all in all, I loved the liberal democrats – and yes, this is a sentence I never thought I would commit to print.
The Labour play is a classic tale of unrequited love, yes, the sort that you know exactly how it’s going to end the minute the stage is lit. We follow the story of Jake (Noah Radcliffe Adams) and Will (Hari Bravery), two boys from very different class backgrounds, with very different views on sex, who end up waking up in the same bed together. Will is obsessed with Jake, Jake couldn’t care less because he is too wrapped up with this girl in his politics A-Level class who he is ‘never’ going to sleep with. If romance is your thing, it has all the recipes for a great play.
There is a problem, however. The dialogue is so cliched and forced, you never actually get a chance to get behind any of the characters. Yes, it’s a tough ask to make the rich/poor lover drama new and exciting so we can’t be mad at Thorne for not achieving it. However, overly hackneyed dialogue does not make for an enjoyable audience experience, you find yourself cringing too many times. Especially when Jake tells Will (yes, a genuine quote, I couldn’t believe it either) ‘you’re the reason we have the (Labour) party. Bravery and Radcliffe Adams give it their all and manage brilliantly with what very little material they are given. At points they are stunning in their subtly, and they genuinely have more chemistry than both other couples put together. You really feel the tension, the embarrassment, the awkwardness when they finally kiss. Will’s ‘oh my god’ followed by Jake’s ‘I knew it was going to happen but not like that’ followed by the silence, the shame, was brilliantly realised. It was perhaps the only moment where the drama fully stepped out from its cliché-canopy. However, we have to wait for twenty minutes for such stepping-out.
The main issue is the boys just aren’t given enough time. Robert and Marie’s boring marriage gets forty-five minutes, the liberal democrats never going to be one night stand gets thirty. Labour only get twenty, and it really harms how we engage with the characters. Will and Jake’s stories just aren’t as developed as the one’s we have just seen, which makes them kind of forgettable. Which really is a sadness as there was so much there which I wanted Thorne to explore in more detail. I wanted to invest in the boys and their emotional journey, but I just couldn’t. Although, this could be a comment on the state of the Labour party recently…
Let’s bring this to a conclusion. Despite some definite flaws, though no play is ever perfect, Love Song Productions’ take on 2nd May 1997 was glorious. It genuinely had some of the best acting I have seen in a student production this term. I found myself actually enjoying a show about politics, which is something I never never never thought would happen.