The Angry Brigade*** (Bush Theatre)

Posted: May 27, 2015 in Theatre

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Having established himself as a chronicler of modern British political history, James Graham now turns to anti-politics with this fact-based look at the early 1970s anarchist movement of the play’s title. This is actually two plays – one concerning the police investigation and the other set amongst the anarchists – which Graham instructs can be performed in either order with the same actors, or with different ones. James Grieve’s production gives us the police play first and uses the same four actors – Mark Arends, Pearl Chanda, Harry Melling and Lizzy Watts – in both. The order is the correct one, leaving the best until last. The police play shows us four young officers brought together by Scotland Yard to introduce some joined-up thinking to the hunt for terrorists who are modelling themselves on European equivalents and placing home made bombs at key locations in London. The point that the person sitting next to you on the tube could be one of the anarchists is well made and, ironically, the hunt itself becomes anarchic, with the officers beginning to long for release from the shackles of their everyday lives. The problem is that the play rambles aimlessly for too long at the beginning and its comedic tone does not sit well with the material; dealing with a bumbling police unit, there are times when an appearance by Rowan Atkinson would not seem out of place, except that the play is never really very funny. All attempts at comedy are abandoned after the interval when we join the Brigade in its quest to undermine the British social structure. And a very angry brigade it is, tearing down walls and hurling filing cabinets across the stage. The key protagonists are Jim (Melling). venting rage and frustration born out of the constrictions of growing up in Northern England during post-War austerity, and Anna (Chanda), a nascent feminist who is the first in the group to realise the value of what she in intent on destroying and thereby becomes the Achilles’ heel which the police can target. Graham gives the play’s most eloquent speeches to Jim and Anna, providing fascinating argument and counter-argument, but the most telling moment comes when she sets a dinner table awaiting Jim’s return to their squat, instinctively using that symbol of middle class convention – napkins. Much of what Graham writes can be related to modern day extremism and the assertion “the Tories always win” is as true as ever in 2015. Flawed and uneven as it is, this production is full of interesting insights.

Performance date: 26 May 2015

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