The Contingency Plan - Resilience

Steve Waters

Bush Theatre

(2009)

Review by Philip Fisher

Resilience, the follow-up to On the Beach, is a brilliant political satire that develops into a disaster thriller. If nothing else, it will go down in theatrical history as the first play to consider (and lampoon) the upcoming Cameron Government or mention swine flu.

Tamara Harvey has been blessed with a tremendous, five-strong acting ensemble, each of whom shines as the play considers how the new administration might react to a potential national crisis similar to the Sri Lankan tsunami.

At its comic peak, Resilience has echoes of the best of Yes Minister with a pair of Ministers exchanging verbal blows in a Churchillian sealed underground bunker in an unseemly battle for supremacy as Britain floods.

David Bark Jones' Minister Chris is first seen as a chin- and brain- and trouser-less Eton and Oxford chum of "David", who has clearly been promoted way past his level of competency. By the end, he has at least got his trousers back, if neither of the other lacunae.

His bête noir is the chilling Teresa May character Tessa, a "reactionary dominatrix" Resilience Minister convincingly portrayed by Susan Brown. This working class left-over from Thatcherite days is a much cannier political animal, who could be heading all the way to the top.

Their advisers also fall into two camps in what becomes a battle of the boffins. Jenks is the old hand, a truly eccentric Oxford Don with unshakeable belief in his own judgement, played to hilarious perfection by Robin Soans. The playwright/actor has great fun in the role of a soggy, Green cyclist with arcane expertise without ever quite becoming absurd.

His opposition comes from the two characters transferred from the play set 24 hours before. Stephanie Street, so good recently in Shades, now shows us Sarika as the civil servant at work, trying to promote her beau, while desperate to please new masters and keep her job.

Her secret weapon is Will, the increasingly dotty climatologist who mirrors Jenks' confidence but with a dark pessimism that can never please politicians who prefer spin to harsh reality. Geoffrey Streatfeild excellently balances the introversion of an outcast genius with compelling anger as he sees his prognostications ignored.

Resilience plays up the comedy to great effect but throughout its 2½ hours never neglects a serious underlying purpose, that of bringing to the fore the dangers that we face if we ignore polar melt.

It builds to an incredibly tense and truly dramatic ending in which either outcome, disaster or unnecessary panic, is a possibility. This really does become alarming in true Orson Welles fashion and should ring a clarion call to politicians on both sides of the House (or both houses in Obama's USA).

While Steve Waters is not above using the odd contrivance or volte face, this play pairing shows him to be a really fine political playwright with the ability to get across complex issues intelligibly.