Pros: A complete theatrical experience, supported by excellent sound and technical designs.
Cons: Some important moments felt under-played.
Set against a 1970’s backdrop of Tory cuts, The Angry Brigade examines consumer society and human relationships through the opposing lenses of anarchy and “the establishment”. It is a play of two distinct halves, the first played out in an office at Scotland Yard, the second in a house share/squat.
With promotional material indicating that the play is about Tory cuts and anarchy, it would be difficult not to expect some form of political agenda here – especially given that press night happens to be the day before the general election. However, if you are expecting a political play, you may be disappointed. This is a much more subtle look at the impact of politics upon social and sexual relationships. We are presented with two opposing extremes, police officers in pursuit of promotion and the perfect nuclear family, versus anarchist terrorists living in a communal, polyamorous house-share. Ultimately it is tension and dis-satisfaction with both of these lifestyles which drives the narrative.
If there is a political message, it is perhaps that neither extreme is fully satisfying – and given the timing of this particular production, I wonder whether this message might take on new meanings over the coming month. A comment on voting certainly raised a few nervous laughs on the night that I was there.
The production is both bold and sophisticated with a tendency to underplay the performances. This subtlety works well at times, but less so at others, with some moments feeling slightly stilted. I sometimes felt as though I was watching performers going through the actions of sex and anarchy, rather than truly performing them. This was particularly the case during the show’s sexual climax.
The second half of the show is where the actors really shine, this is in part due to the script and the creativity that the anarchist lifestyle allows. A heartbreaking love story is broken up with moments of song and snippets of well-known adverts whilst actors tear down walls, burn things, and shove numerous filing cabinets around the space, or balance precariously upon them. It is glorious to see actors treat their set with such little regard and I wonder how many cabinets will need to be replaced over the course of the run.
Tom Gibbons’ immersive sound design adds real theatrical magic. Chairs scrape across a non-existent upstairs room and we are constantly jolted in our seats by bangs, crashes and audibly punctuated scene transitions. There are further moments of magic in the lighting and video effects, and a beautiful monologue about tower block life is elevated by subtle, sophisticated lighting.
Overall, The Angry Brigade is an excellent, subtle, political examination of life in consumer society. A show that will leave audiences with plenty to think about.
Author: James Graham
Director: James Grieve
Producer: Hanna Streeter
Booking Until: 13th June 2015
Box Office: 020 8743 5050
Booking Link: https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/the-angry-brigade/