7:84 Theatre Company
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Documentary may not be a genre most associate with theatre, but 7:84's latest offering uses words garnered from interviews with people directly affected by Public/Private Partnerships (PPPs) and Private Funding Initiatives (PFIs) to construct a frightening picture of the state of both health and education in Scotland today.
The piece examines specific cases wherein public interest in services like heath, transport, and education have been undermined by the profit motives of privately owned companies. With source material taken directly from negatively affected employees and community members in each of the situations, the only real failing of Private Agenda is its extreme one-sidedness. Now, it's possible that PPIs and PFIs are genuinely as bad as 7:84 asserts, that there are absolutely no positive aspects to these funding methods. While a few sarcastic remarks are made near the end of the piece as to how good the schemes are for politicians, who don't have to face up to the disastrous results of their actions because by the time communities have to pay they'll be out of office, this is a piece that gives no voice to those who might feel PPIs and PFIs are truly the way forward. Obviously, 7:84 is more concerned with representing and spreading the views of those who feel the system has done them wrong, but there are times at which this dedication to expressing the opinions of the downtrodden undermines the idea that we are getting the full story.
Here, also, might be a good point to admit a certain bias of my own - as an American studying in Scotland, I found it interesting that the subjects of 7:84's play were constantly willing to indict American companies for taking money out of the Scottish economy via their ownership of various companies involved in the PPP and PFI schemes, while at the same time citing the desires of American tourists and insurance companies - who are paying money into the system - to back up claims regarding why Scottish hospitals shouldn't be closed down. But this is a strictly personal quibble, no doubt informed by my own nationality and the desire to make sure that people realize that American Big Business and American Politics are entirely different from Your Average American Citizen.
It's difficult to comment on the acting of specific company members, as Tom Freeman, Keith Macpherson, Laura Smales, and Anita Vettesse portray a variety of characters and there is no note made in the programme as to who played who. For the most part, acting is strong, although there are times when accents (especially of a representative from Balfour Beatty) are completely unidentifiable, sounding like some a strange mix of British and American Deep South.
Private Agenda has its flaws, and there are points during which the constant barrage of stories can be highly demoralizing; a final attempt to end the piece on an "up" note doesn't quite hit the mark. But overall, Lorenzo Mele has directed a stirring, gripping play which successfully merges techniques of documentary and theatre to draw the audience's attention to a range of issues that deserve notice.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody