Pros: Highly topical, intriguing political subject matter. An exuberant, entertaining, engaging, emotional and amusing performance.
Cons: Attempts to tackle too many issues. Some political simplicity is needed.
Racial equality, social equality, equality for those all of sexual orientations, hope for the future! Obama-ology celebrates all the liberal values associated with the 2008 US Presidential election.
Obama-ology follows Warren, a black graduate, fresh from college, as he volunteers for the Democrat Party. Warren is sent to Cleveland, Ohio. If the campaign team can persuade East Cleveland’s predominantly African-American neighbourhoods to vote for Obama, they will play a significant role in securing the vital swing state for the Democrats. Warren sets out with high hopes, but little understanding of his own motivations. As time wears on, our protagonist realises that connecting with the electorate is harder than it seems. But the graduate eventually reaches out to a young woman named Cece, and begins to realise why he’s so keen to make history.
This production tackles a great many social-cultural issues. The central theme of Obama-ology is the socio-economic situation of the USA’s African-American populations. The play also touches upon inter-racial relations. Playwright Aurin Squire, explores this issue most effectively through Warren’s experiences with the state police. In one particularly tense scene, Warren feels deeply threatened when a traffic cop stops his car. Obama-ology is, therefore, a highly topical piece of theatre. As protest continues in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer, it is ever more important that we push stark examinations of police relations with black communities into the popular sphere.
Obama-ology is an overt promotion of liberal political values. While this is where much of the play’s strength lies, I can’t help thinking that the production attempts to tackle more than is necessary. Indeed, the play touches briefly upon socio-political attitudes towards sexual orientation. Warren tells his fellow campaigners that he is gay, and our protagonist’s family appears to struggle with his homosexuality. However, the issue is only superficially explored. The script would benefit from streamlining, but this is nothing some careful editing wouldn’t sort out.
Overall, Obama-ology is a thoroughly enjoyable production. The venue sits above the very pleasant Finborough Arms. It’s always nice to pay pub prices for a drink while you watch the show! Also, quality production scripts are available, which is always a plus. The performance space itself is an intimate arrangement. The seats enclose a low stage in the centre of the room. The audience, therefore, feels almost inside the performance. Designer Anna Lewis, takes full advantage of the venue set up. Pro-Democrat campaign posters cover the walls. As the crowd settle down to await the performance, a stereo plays Obama’s enthralling election speeches. This audio-visual combination draws us into the campaign as we await the actors.
Performances are strong throughout the play. From the outset, Peter Caulfield, Pearl Mackie, Katherine Newman and Amanda Wright give high-energy portrayals of campaign instructors, generating a manic election atmosphere. Mackie also gives a stand-out performance as Cece, communicating intense emotion as she and Warren clash in an explosive argument. What is more, Mackie’s vocals as Cece sings His Eye is on the Sparrow are beautiful.
I thoroughly enjoyed Obama-ology. As a History graduate who now works in politics, it is good to see my day to day interests on the stage! And it is even better to see them performed with energy, humour and emotion. One final word though, Republicans beware! Obama-ology very much plays into the hands of a liberal metropolitan audience. It offers an exuberant – if a little rose-tinted – presentation of the 2008 movement for hope.
Director: Tommo Fowler
Producer: Aidan Grounds
Booking until: 16th December 2014
Box office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/booking.php