The Angry Brigade
Watford Palace Theatre
Since their 15 minutes of fame over 40 years ago, The Angry Brigade has not so much got a bad press as no press at all.
Where West Germany's Baader Meinhof Gang has been commemorated in a variety of media, including their very own film, their British contemporaries are pretty much forgotten.
James Graham has decided to try and remedy that by dedicating a play to the quartet of well-educated anarchists who were eventually brought to book after wreaking relatively harmless chaos on society for a few brief months in 1971.
The play is far from a standard historical or political analysis. The first half looks and feels like a light, absurdist comedy, set amongst a series of incompetent undercover police officers, off rather than on the trail of unknown troublemakers.
Led by Felix Scott's temporarily promoted Smith, they ineffectually try to interpret limited evidence, while interrogating a series of unlikely characters, mostly played by Harry Melling and all of whom are little help.
Only when a member of the terrorist group makes contact does a symbiotic relationship between hunter and quarry begin to develop.
This is all gently amusing but it is only after the interval in a packed 2½ hours that viewers will begin to realise that they have taken on board a considerable amount of peripheral information about the eponymous group that paradoxically wished to find peace through violence.
After the interval, we are witness to what is almost a completely separate play. Now, the spotlight of James Grieve's lively production for Paines Plough turns on the intense quartet and particularly Anna Mendelssohn, an insecure young woman from Stockport.
Patsy Ferran delivers a strong performance as lonely Anna debates and fights with her colleagues, struggling to find common ground in anything other than destruction of society and often not even then.
Her most informative interactions come with Melling's Jim, an eloquent proponent of revolution (as one expects from a James Graham character) and boyfriend in the making, were that not too bourgeois a concept for either.
He fails to win the contest for the most radical of the group, losing out to Scott’s tough John, who will not compromise the cause or his principles whatever the provocation or need.
The last member of the group, Hil is somewhat underwritten so that in both halves, Scarlett Alice Johnson gets little opportunity to provide anything more than support.
James Graham has written a play that is currently rather diffuse and only imparts his powerful messages intermittently. It should still have appeal for those with an interest in the period (which he also mined for This House) and also fans of powerful political theatre viewed from a highly personal perspective.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher