A New Play for the General Election
Written by Chris New and devised with the cast
Man in Rum Ltd
Devised by its director-writer and its cast through improvisation, this play is meant for the moment: a political response to today’s politics. It is set in London on the night before the 2015 General Election but it doesn’t deal directly with campaign issues and political parties.
A young man, dressed in what looks like army surplus, comes in carrying a plastic-wrapped body over his shoulder. He is bound hand and foot; it isn’t the plastic that restrains him. That is simply a covering that turns him into a cartoon caricature: black lines drawn on a white background give him a suit and tie, big ears and hair. Is this a symbol or a caricature?
The young captor (Jumaane Brown) is black. Is that significant or accidental? He is well-spoken too, very British. He knocks his captive about a bit, then relents, gives him some water and starts a conversation.
“What’s your name?” he asks and volunteers his own is Hero. “Call me Tom” says the captive (Charlie Holloway) who says he’s an accountant and drives a Ford, though later admitting it's a Jaguar.
“Who’s your hero?” asks Hero. His own is Superman, who has the powers of a god. He says Tom is the villain, a villain who needs to be stopped: “You’re quiet, reading books—but you’ve killed thousands.” He wants to know what has happened to a missing girl, Sonia.
What seemed like a stylised encounter between a member of the privileged classes and a revolutionary activist now appears to be developing a plot line but before it goes further a new uncouth couple arrives: Richard (Tim Pritchett) and cup-cake crazy Maggie (Emily Houghton) who is having a birthday. Hero, whom Richard calls Danny and Maggie addresses as Jesus, gives her a present.
I found myself flailing to follow. The actors seemed to know what they were doing but I didn’t. When the captive is given a specific identity, George Osborne, it didn’t really make things any clearer.
Perhaps Chris New is trying to tell us that our party political manoeuvring and the pledges politicians make to the public have little to do with the real problems we have to face. He shows us terrorism and blind fundamentalism set against a craving for cup cakes.
Of course, I may be wrong—and anyway do we need telling? Surely we know, but is there a political solution? Does this short, surreal story make any real contribution? Does it work as theatre?
The calm restraint of Jumaane Brown’s Daniel and the commitment of the other performers do hold the attention but its surrealism stumped me. Bold experiment has the right to risk failure but for me this did fail.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton