Arts Theatre, London (***)
This is a strange evening. Styled an evening of political satire, it turns out to be an under-whelming evening save for one major exception.Once upon a time political satire was all the rage on television and still produces programmes such as In the Thick of It. In recent years, however, a new generation of young playwrights has emerged under the wings of Theatre Uncut – the first an evening responding to the austerity cuts, the second instigated by director Cressida Brown on censorship and the tension between art and politics.
Terrific evenings both, the plays short, pungent by two of those here – Mark Ravenhill, Caryl Churchill – also introduced us to the latest tyros such as Anders Lustgarten, Jack Thorne, Lucky Kirkwood as well as the inestimable David Greig (now in charge of Edinburgh’s Lyceum).
Beside them, expertly staged and performed as it is and as you’d expect from Max Stafford Clark whose own record of political comment goes back over four decades, satire or topicality in A View from Islington North (the Labour leader’s own constituency) is in short supply with the exception of David Hare’s Ayn Rand Takes A Stand.
Ayn Rand, the darling of the Republican Right, comes over in Hare’s selective excerpt as a staunch capitalist, her mantra, according to Hare, an unfettered, unregulated Free Market and commensurately, free movement of labour. Enter Theresa May, all for keeping out new labour (in both senses). And a dithering Gideon/George Osborne caught between opposing mantras.
Rip-roaringly delivered by Ann Mitchell as Rand with Jane Wymark and Steve John Shepherd, at least Hare has found a way of refreshing current over-flogged arguments.
For the others, three have been seen before: in Ravenhill’s The Mother (first produced in 2007) – a short sharp expletive filled vignette of grief forestalled, his conceit is to repeat one word – Mrs Morrison – numerous times by two Army officers attempting to interrupt Sarah Alexander’s mouthy mum.
Churchill’s conceit in Tickets Are Now On Sale (part of Theatre Uncut’s 2015 Walking the Tightrope collection) is to gradually replace ordinary words with marketing vocabulary, a ploy she’s used elsewhere to greater effect.
Alistair Beaton’s direct reference in The Accidental Leader is mildly amusing, a light spoof on rumoured internal conspiracies to depose Corbyn whilst Stella Feehily’s How To Get Ahead in Politics is a sketch familiar to any watchers of Yes, Minister or its stage sequel.
The evening ends with a typical Billy Bragg rouser, but in truth, it’s too late. The horse has long since bolted.
A View from Islington North runs at the Arts Theatre to July 2, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate May 2016 and slightly amended here.