Parliament Square – Bush Theatre, London

Writer: James Fritz

Director: Jude Christian

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

In the political whirlwind of the last two years, the value of individual protest seems to be even more pertinent than when James Fritz won the Bruntwood Award for Playwriting in 2015. Whether it’s one victim being the first to speak publicly about enduring sexual misconduct that inspires other complainants, or an act of political defiance that garners media attention, a single voice can cause an avalanche.

Kat wakes up one morning, leaves her comfortable home where she lives in easy domesticity with her husband and young baby, and heads to Parliament Square where she plans to make a stand that will change the world. But en route, Kat wrangles with her conscience, trying to find the courage to act when so much is at stake, hoping that in the aftermath of the event, everyone she loves will understand why.

Jude Christian’s revival at the Bush Theatre is slick and spare, drawing out the nuances of Fritz’s text and the central dilemma of whether one person can really make a difference. Performed in the round on almost bare stage, Christian invites the audience to analyse Kat’s actions from every angle, and while the text deliberately resists revealing her motives on that fateful day, the production leaves the decision as to whether Kat is mad or heroic to the viewer.

Flt Davis’ parred back design reflects Kat’s slow rejection of her old life as she overcomes every obstacle on the way to Parliament Square, reflected in domestic objects being removed from the stage floor, physically and metaphorically clearing her path. And this first section of the play in which Kat is alone with her inner voice – given physical form by Lois Chimimba – is skilfully built to capture the doubt, fear, paranoia and determination that leads one woman to undertake a shocking act.

What happens next is less energetic, however, during a slow process of rebuild and rehabilitation for all involved. There are moments of tension when family members confront each other as the effect of Kat’s protest is swept aside, but aspects of the story begin to sag and feel overly elongated. Christian valiantly attempts to add flavour with a series of short-sharp scenes interspersed by a blackout and a very effective rhythmic montage section that covers more than a decade, but the tension and drive of the first section largely dissipates.

Esther Smith delivers a charged performance as the fraught and frustrated Kat, credibly capturing her range of feeling as she approaches the big moment, and highlighting her absolute conviction that this course of action was the right one. Smith manages to make a potentially difficult character seem grounded and responsible, torn irrevocably between familial duty and her social conscience.

Chimimba is equally engaging as Kat’s inner voice, but clearly a biased one, driving her to overcome her doubts and do what she planned. Although initially anodyne, encouraging Kat to take small steps, Chimimba shows the increasingly pushy nature of the voice as events unfold. The pair work well as a unit in the early scene, feeling like two sides of the same character and their duologue is a highlight.

The surrounding characters are less successfully drawn, and their appearance in the second half of the play has mixed success. Joanna Howarth’s Mum does well to convey her refusal to face the truth of her daughter’s actions, and the unresolved tension this creates is well managed. Damola Adelaja’s Tommy as the put-upon husband and Kelly Hotten as a physiotherapist have virtually nothing to work with, while Seraphina Beh as Catherine takes a rather unconvincing route from saviour to activist.

This revival of Parliament Square does provoke plenty of questions about the value of individual versus collective action, and violent rather than peaceful protest, but can’t quite decide which it advocates. The approach brings an interesting level of scrutiny to the actions of the central character that draw the viewer in and reinforce the play’s core theme that one voice can initiate change, but, like her family, we’ never really understand what it’s all for.

Runs until 6 January 2018 | Image: The Other Richard

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Slick and spare

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