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A View from Islington North

Mark Ravenhill, Caryl Churchill, Alistair Beaton, David Hare, Stella Feehily and Billy Bragg
Out of Joint
Arts Theatre

The Mother - Sarah Alexander Credit: Robert Workman
Ayn Rand Takes A Stand - Steve John Shepherd, Jane Wymark, Ann Mitchell Credit: Robert Workman
The Accidental Leader - Sarah Alexander, Joseph Prowen, Bruce Alexander Credit: Robert Workman

Those attuned to current affairs will realise that Islington North is the constituency seat of Jeremy Corbyn, currently leader of the Labour Parliamentary opposition.

They might also divine the political stance taken in this series of five short plays and a song curated and directed by Max Stafford-Clark for Out of Joint.

A company of six actors shows great versatility and energy in delivering 1¾ hours of sometimes chilling satire written by a sparkling selection of playwrights.

The Mother by Mark Ravenhill

The opener was first seen as part of the playwright’s Shoot / Get Treasure / Repeat cycle almost 10 years ago.

It retains its power thanks to a superb central performance from Sarah Alexander as Hayley Morrison, the foul-mouthed, evasive mother of a squaddie who has just been killed in Middle East during the War on Terror.

The actress is quite magnificent as she berates and shocks an unshockable army major played by Jane Wymark and her callow colleague, Joseph Prowen.

The audience might be taken aback by the language but the underlying sentiments come through all too clearly even before the lights go down on a tearful primal scream.

Tickets are Now on Sale by Caryl Churchill

This tiny piece was first performed last year as part of Theatre Uncut’s Walking the Tightrope.

It features a loving couple, named only One (Miss Alexander) and Two (Steve John Shepherd).

What should be a romantic conversation becomes incendiary, as the writer replaces ordinary conversation with politically charged rhetoric in a series of repetitions utilising amongst other sources marketing speak and Israel’s alleged aggression in the Middle East.

The Accidental Leader by Alistair Beaton

In front of a pub pool table, cabinet ministers Jim and Eleanor, played respectively by Bruce Alexander and Jane Wymark, plot the downfall of JC (the political leader rather than the Messiah, though some might fail to spot the subtle differences).

The sly politicking could seem very depressing to those who believe in open and honest debate but is hardly likely to surprise anyone who understands even the rudiments of 21st-century political life.

Only the arrival of Miss Alexander as bolshie left-winger Nina brings a breath of much-needed honesty to proceedings, along with open laughter.

Ayn Rand Takes a Stand by David Hare

Sir David Hare delivers a fantasy featuring Ann Mitchell’s Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand as a catalyst to prick the hypocrisy of contemporary politicians.

She has been invited to the home of Gideon, clearly a politician although it takes time to discover that Shepherd’s Mr Osborne more commonly uses his second Christian name, George.

He and his guest have a relatively sophisticated debate about political philosophy with many views in common.

The arrival of Miss Wymark, playing a more reactionary politician named Theresa, adds spice to the debate. Swiftly, the Home Secretary is put on the spot as the inconsistencies in her position are identified and then lampooned.

Pertinently given the climate today, the major issue about which she struggles to offer any clarity is the contradiction between the desire for an absolutely free market and the wish to restrict immigration and, with it, freedom to work wherever an individual chooses.

How to Get Ahead in Politics by Stella Feehily

The last play allows Bruce Alexander to have fun playing a Chief Whip hauling a louche, dissident MP played by Shepherd over the coals.

What should be an unbelievable tale of one dodgy, oversexed politician trying to protect another feels all too credible given the track record of so many MPs over the last 50 years and, more privately, for generations before.

No Buddy, No by Billy Bragg

The performance ends with a short a cappella performance of a characteristic Billy Bragg protest song that takes up the themes of a very satisfying evening with wit and political acuity.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher