Writers: Brian Walters, Dominic Cavendish, Kay Adshead, Jimmy Osbourne, Ben Worth, Fraser Grace, Jon Brittain and Matthew Tedford
Directors: Audrey Sheffield, Samuel Miller, Donnacadh O’Briain, Rebecca Murphy, Ben Worth, Gemma Fairlie, Jon Brittain
Reviewer: Harry Stern
Plays don’t need to be long to pack a punch and this evening of one short of a dozen pieces goes to prove that they can be beautifully formed even when small. The Thatcher era left its indelible imprint on British, European and international society and, love her or hate her, the response to that icon of the Eighties still inspires a passionate response some thirty years on. Among the liberal literati it is fashionable to highlight the damage done. It is the very stuff of drama. War, social conflict, homophobia, destruction of whole communities and autocracy encourage contention and the several writers need little encouragement to put the boot in. On the rare occasion when humanitarian compassion for the passing of an impaired old lady shows its face, it is quickly subverted by the enduring anger at the supposed crimes she perpetrated on her own people. Expect a provocative evening but do not expect a balanced view.
Brian Walters’ three vignettes entitled ‘Apples’ take hold of entrepreneurialism fairly and squarely by the horns. A pre-1979 fruit vendors collective, bound by archaic and restrictive practices, is forced to change in order to survive when confronted by deregulated competition. The casualties include not only those who resist change but, heartbreakingly, the very solo entrepreneur who initially challenged the status quo, her business compromised by the monolith she had forced to change.
A trio of eulogies to Mrs. T. entitled ‘I am Sad You are Dead Mrs. T.’ comes from the wickedly acid pen of Kay Adshead. Three post Thatcher inheritors of her policies misunderstand, adapt and revile those policies whose natural successors in the form of the Blair and Cameron administrations have become the canvas for contemporary life. The witty and very funny stereotypification of the first two set the poignant humanitarianism of the last into very sharp relief. “You can’t have Care in the Community when there is no community and no care”.
The conceit of Dominic Cavendish’s ‘True Blue’ is almost Napoleonic. Maggie contemplates the various interpretations of blueness. Abandoned on an island, she is perhaps no longer in possession of all the faculties that made her what she was. Visited by one Knot she recalls the peaks and rejects the troughs of her time in office although she concedes that redemption may come in acceptance of mistakes. It is a powerful playlet beautifully performed by Georgina Strawson with strong support from Freddie Capper.
Jimmy Osbourne’s ‘1833’ examines the meaning of nationalism through the disenfranchisement of two Falkland Islanders while Fraser Grace’s ‘My Dinnertimes with Clarence’ pre-empts and regrets the wholesale changes to the post 1979 Education system. It offers a view that seeks to decry the subsequent carnage that resulted in the hopelessness of intellectual aspiration in the face of the get-up-and-grab-it society that followed.
A cabaret pastiche around Thatcher’s dealings with gay issues and Clause 28 is an entertaining round-off to the evening in Jon Brittain and Matthew Tedford’s ‘Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho’.
The high spot of the evening, however, closes the first half. Ben Worth directs his own ‘Suit and Tie’. It is a brilliantly witty and vitriolic attack on the cocaine-fuelled, alcohol-consumptive, sexually indulgent, Loadsamoney culture that lives on in the ghostly memory of those of us who lived through it. There is much that is memorable but ultimately it is the line “I wake up with the taste of money in my mouth” which lingers, pointing an accusing finger back across the decades.
Not everything in the evening is brilliant, but it is a provocative and varied evening in the theatre that melds theatricality with politics. It is heady mixture.