Pros: Surreal, dreamlike atmosphere – solidly performed.
Cons: What on earth was going on and where is the political commentary?
I have no idea what A New Play for the General Election was about.
The production was billed as a commentary on the General Election (hence the title), but the connection with politics was tenuous at best. In fact, the play was devoid of narrative, coherence and insightful comment. I began optimistically believing that the disjointed surrealism would morph slowly into a message. As the play trundled on and I failed to discern any meaning, I began to think ‘surely there is some political philosophy or theatrical device I’m missing?’ Alas, I think the script was just poor.
A quick summary of A New Play for the General Election should demonstrate my issues. The play opens with a man dressed in militia garb carrying what appears to be a tied-up George Osborne with a massive comedy head into an old factory. The militiaman, called Danny, places George Osborne on chair and begins questioning him. Later, a woman named Maggie (but whom Danny likes to call Sonia) arrives with a man named Richard. Maggie seems to think Danny is Jesus. Chaos erupts. Still with me?
In a bid to remedy my confusion, I read the programme, in which Chris New (writer and director) explains the play’s production and premise. Chris states that the play is designed to tackle this ‘basic political question – who owns the narrative?’ However, I noticed very little exploration of political perspectives. Rather, there was a cryptic nod to Thereasa May’s position as Home Secretary; a joke about George Osborne’s real name being Gideon, and some rudimentary questioning of the nature of heroes and villains. Of course, the latter pertained to Margaret Thatcher, who isn’t exactly a dominant figure in this year’s General Election.
Chris New and company devised their play through actor-led character development and guided improvisation. Suffice to say, this approach did not produce any meaningful exploration of the nature of politics, and it certainly didn’t help produce any current affairs material.
It’s quite difficult to comment on other aspects of this play, because production was so dominated by the poor script. Kate Unwin did do a good job of designing a surreal and dream-like atmosphere. The set was creepy and dark. Most notably, Charlie Holloway was adorned with a giant, bulbous, George Osborne head; a terrifying sight to behold. The surreal atmosphere had me wondering if we were supposed to be in some stress-induced pre-election dream of the Chancellor’s. The design was interesting, I’m just not sure its purpose was.
And the actors definitely gave solid performances throughout. I was struck by Emily Houghton’s portrayal of Maggie’s cocktail of innocence, confusion and determination. Indeed, Maggie’s distress at having spilled some teabags in her rucksack (just roll with it) is enchanting.
A New Play for the General Election was performed solidly. However, the premise and script were disappointing. I had high hopes of some insightful and perhaps some witty commentary on election culture and events. Alas, I left confused and suspecting thespian self-absorption. This play looked into the devisors’ creativity rather than outwards to its subject. A successful commentary infuses creativity with forceful communication of political issues, and sadly this play did not go anywhere achieving this balance.
Director/Writer: Chris New
Producer: Man In Rum in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Design: Kate Unwin
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/venue/finborough-theatre-tickets/FINBOROERD/905
Booking Until: 12 May 2015.