Ticketmaster Summer in Stages


Verbatim text from Look Right Look Left Theatre and the Roundhouse
The Ustinov at the Guildhall, Bath, and touring

Production photo

If the health of a democracy is measured by what proportion of the electorate head to the polling station on election day, then ours is in trouble. This is the premise behind Look Left Look Right Theatre Company's verbatim piece, Counted?. Turnout in British elections has been in steady freefall since 1945 and as of March this year, a staggering 56% of British under 24 year olds and 30% of ethnic minorities were not even registered to vote. It's sobering stuff.

In fact it's easy to emerge from Bath's Guildhall with a sense that Counted? ought to be compulsory viewing for the new coalition government. The play leaves you with an uneasy sense of the shakiness of British democracy, not least because of the contrast between the voices of the politically disillusioned told with such authenticity in the Georgian opulence of the city's Council Offices.

Look Left Look Right Theatre Company made an impact last year with The Caravan. Since then, the company have been Associate Artists at the Roundhouse and were invited to collaborate artistically with a research project at Leeds University called the "Road to Voting", headed by professor Stephen Coleman.

The result is an arresting piece of theatre laying bare the misconception that those who chose not to exercise their right to vote are necessarily universally apathetic. You'd be forgiven if you start the evening guilty of buying into this into fallacy: it's no surprise when we're told that statistically Britons are more likely to vote for The X-Factor than during an election. Or that the most viewed 'political' clip on you tube is footage of Gordon Brown picking his nose and eating it.

But over the course of about 90 minutes, this versatile cast of six reveal a very different reality with a series of razor-sharp characterisations, which trip through every race, class, age and gender. We meet the local council member, so devoted to his hometown that he and his wife wake in the small hours, worrying about a resident's unresolved problems with drainage. The prison guard who refuses to cast his vote to lend anyone buried in Westminster credibility, and who bemoans never having been 'doorstepped' by a single candidate. The outraged resident of a northern town, galvanised to run as an independent candidate after his local council invested £1.2 million on a standing stone monument instead of on a desperately needed community centre. "This is Britain", he despairs, showing us the bleak civic monument that no-one had asked for, "in an acre's worth of land".

This is a pacy, engrossing production from an impeccable cast who have far more than a cautionary tale to tell. Counted? doesn't simply bemoan poor turnout at the ballot box and blame an apathetic electorate: we have Westminster and the media to do that for us. Crucially, this piece of documentary theatre asks why - and stops to listen to the answers, showing that the Arts can help plug the gaps left by an ailing democracy.

Runs at the Guildhall, Bath until 4th June

Reviewer: Allison Vale