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Feed The Beast – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Writer: Steve Thompson

Director: Peter Rowe

Reviewer: Glen Pearce

On election night, what could be more appropriate than a new play looking behind the famous black doors of Number 10 Downing Street.

Steve Thompson’s play, however, doesn’t look at the current election campaign, instead looks at a fictional Prime Minister’s relationship with the media. In an age where personality and appearance are just as much key political skills as debating and policy, it’s a relationship that needs to be mastered.

For new PM Michael though it’s a relationship he’s uncomfortable in cultivating. He’s happy to talk policy but not personality. Determined to keep his family out of the limelight, he’s on a collision course with the media. When he appoints a new, harder-edged press officer the relationship seems to be on the rocks.

As the morals begin to be challenged, however, by necessity the PM must review his approach to the media and work out what the price is he’s willing to pay for his ethical stance.

Thompson’s script could easily be bogged down by the political process but the bureaucracy is carefully balanced by a plentiful supply of humour. It’s a tough and brutal world and Thompson doesn’t shy away from showing that brutality but there’s also a deep current of humanity on display. Here are a group of people who may have good intentions but who ultimately are torn apart by the establishment.

Gerald Kyd is onstage virtually throughout the entire piece and it’s a commanding presence as the new PM. His Michael is not an easy character to like, a strange hybrid of arrogance and compassion this is no rose-tinted idol. This is a real man who wants to make a change but is ultimately corrupted by the system. Kyd ensures the man behind the rôle is always visible.

A good politician, of course, needs good sparring partners and Kacey Ainsworth and Shaun Mason provide more than a match for Kyd’s verbal sparring. Ainsworth as Chief of staff Sally proves more than a match for her employer. Ainsworth provides the voice of conscious and is utterly believable as a woman coming to terms with the difference between corporate life and the political machine.

Mason’s Scott is a more complex character. A much rougher character than the perceived stereotypical Spin Doctor, this is a portrayal that shows the slippery slope that media manipulation can take. Mason snarls and harangues his way to achieving his goal. It would be easy to turn this into a caricature but Mason keeps it just the right side of believability.

Peter Rowe’s direction keeps the pace swift, balancing the drama and humour well and ensuring that attention is maintained. Short scenes, punctuated by projections capturing the multimedia age, reflect the short soundbite nature of modern politics.

Some of the supporting characters fade a bit too much into the background and there’s a feeling that the challenges of a young family inside Downing Street is something that could have been explored further, but as dark political comedy it’s perhaps wise not to overburden the narrative.

After a long, tiring election campaign it could be easy to see this as another layer to add to the political fatigue. Instead, Feed The Beast gives us a witty and insightful insight into the battles inside our political and media institutions. Our politicians may now shy away from ever being this honest and it’s unlikely we’ll ever know how accurate a representation this is but as a piece of entertainment it’s certainly a vote winner.

Runs until 16 May| PhotoPatrick Baldwin

Writer: Steve Thompson Director: Peter Rowe Reviewer: Glen Pearce On election night, what could be more appropriate than a new play looking behind the famous black doors of Number 10 Downing Street. Steve Thompson’s play, however, doesn’t look at the current election campaign, instead looks at a fictional Prime Minister’s relationship with the media. In an age where personality and appearance are just as much key political skills as debating and policy, it’s a relationship that needs to be mastered. For new PM Michael though it’s a relationship he’s uncomfortable in cultivating. He’s happy to talk policy but not personality.…

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The South East team is under the editorship of Glen Pearce. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.