Under Labour party rules if enough local supporters vote, they can ‘trigger’ their MP to face a reselection process. Whilst Triggered is set in 2020, this process still happens today, even making the news quite recently when sitting MP Sam Telford was triggered and lost the subsequent ballot.
Emma Burnell’s play may be fictional, but it is a highly informed view into the process. She pulls off a tricky balancing act in giving voice to three different wings of the Labour party; sitting centrist MP Sally (Antonia Beamish), ambitious Blairite Saf (Catherine Adams) and local Momentum leader Jim (Michael Palmer). It’s credit to the script that whilst I wouldn’t go quite as far as saying I found myself agreeing with them all, I was at least prepared to entertain their proposals.
Whilst not actually billed as a comedy, it’s surprising just how funny (and sharply funny at that) it is, and it is humour that works on several levels. As Emma explained (in her recent interview with us), she’s gone deep into the detail of the NEC rulebooks and found plenty of amusement in that, alongside the much broader comedy on offer. It’s clear that sections of the audience are even more in the know about Labour’s processes; a line about ‘Labour List’ is greeted with much amusement by some, whilst the inspired usage of “Things Can Only Get Better” is something all of us can appreciate.
The show features some almost vignette style scenes; Labour party rules being read out, campaigning on a picket line, pitching to be a candidate. Initially I felt that these could have benefited from greater cast interaction. But as I considered it more, surely this is how much of our politics work? We hear from our elected representatives (or those aiming to be) and it is mostly a one-way conversation. Even watching Parliament, you’ll often see MP’s stand up and drone on, not necessarily to partake in a conversation or move a debate forward, but rather to be able to clip their speech for future use so they can say they stood up for an issue. But whilst these vignettes felt accurate in style, for the purposes of the play they are also a lost opportunity to make fuller use of a superb cast.
Another part of the political process that we rarely see (or, let’s be honest, generally care about) is the impact of the political on the personal. Yet as the triggered MP Sally tells us, it’s all personal to her. It’s her life, her job. In her eyes, Jim and Saf fail to consider this when they challenge her, even though neither think she is actually doing a bad job. There’s clearly plenty of drama to be had in this and I’d love to have seen this explored further. What we do get though is both interesting and showcases how good the cast are when working together.
Triggered has already sold out two runs this year, so there is every chance it could return in 2023. If so, it’s certainly worth an evening out. Just be careful; there are some biscuits offered around at the start – choose wisely. Chairwoman June Wright (a dryly funny Carrie Cohen) informs us that our political leanings are clear from the biscuits we choose. I picked a nice garibaldi… oops!
Written and Directed by Emma Burnell
Technical Directors Steve Cox / Jaymie Stewart.
Triggered plays at White Bear Theatre until 26 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.