The Angry Brigade

Bush Theatre, London

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

James Graham is a busy man. With his political farce The Vote just opened as a once and for all Election Night event, his political thriller The Angry Brigade has now arrived in west London.

It is indeed an angry, rather messy play. Typical of Graham thus far, it’s based on real, political events. Graham has already looked back to Britain’s role in the world (Eden’s Empire), the house of Commons in the late 1970s (This House). Now he’s turned his attention to the early 1970s – 1971 – when a home-grown group of British anarchists set out to bomb and blast Britain into a happier, fairer society – a timely reminder that the `enemies within’ have always been with us, not a recent phenomenon.

Graham tells their tale in two halves, of the police unit set up to hunt them down and from inside the terrorist cell. According to the author’s instructions, they can be played in either order. Perhaps it was Graham’s intention to unsettle and unnerve, like the angry brigade. Certainly director James Grieve takes Graham at his word and directs the police half with a mordant sense of irony and ambivalence. Harry Melling’s quirky Ortonesque Commander is an absurdity within a political outline that appears to be asking to be taken seriously.

Graham clearly has much to impart. It’s a pedagogic play with his young protagonists presenting a portrait of youth in rebellion against injustice and stifling conformity – latter day Jimmy Porters though now prepared to maim and kill.

Nothing new here then but it would take a hardened heart not to recognise its social, emotional and political truths. Graham and Grieve and his astounding quartet of actors capture the spirit of the early 1970s with extraordinary energy and commitment.

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

Grieve’s production is indeed alive with the sound of crashing shibboleths, head-banging musical riffs and smoke in common with its inhabitants – all Cambridge educated like the generation of British spies before them.

I didn’t care for Grieve and Paines Plough’s approach but I completely salute their and Graham’s intention. Who knows, his Angry Brigade may have arrived just in time to see Britain’s political tectonic plates, thought immovable, shift.

First published in Reviewsgate, May 2015

The Angry Brigade at the Bush Theatre to June 13, 2015

(NB written prior to the General Election, please note those tectonic plates did move but not quite in the way this writer was imagining…)