Monday, September 12, 2016

Review: 'Lottery' at the New Diorama Theatre, 11th September 2016

It's been a while since we had a Prime Minister that wasn't either incompetent or monstrously evil (or both!). The jury is currently out on Theresa May, but honestly, "we will encourage mono-racial schools" does not bode well. After a while, politics begins to look like an endless procession of besuited bozos strip-mining everything of worth from the country, before quitting to sit on the boards of the companies that coincidentally bought all that stuff at a knock-down price.

Sometimes you just wish a normal person could take over. I guess wanting to be PM indicates a certain amount of megalomania, but still, do they all have to look weirdly like lizard people uncomfortably stuffed into flesh suits?

Simon Paris posits a solution; a lottery in which random members of the public are selected to run the country for a five year term. Whilst the problems of picking some random dude (or dudette) are obvious, there's also positives. Firstly, chances are slim that they'd be beholden to corporate interests and not be feathering their business portfolio while they're in office. Also, they'd theoretically have a genuine insight into normal life and would be able to empathise more directly with the population at large.

And so, Fictive Theatre's Lottery. A satirical play taking place in a UK not too dissimilar from our own. In the opening scene we meet two young people (Ava Pickett and Elliot Bornemann) stuck on a real administrative lottery - jury service. They uneasily make friends, the woman awkwardly making her way through a jokey conversation like a drunkard navigating a minefield. She's all twitches and elbows, randomly breaking off the conversation to stare into space with a glazed expression and giggling manically at inopportune moments.

She spends the play wobbling along the tightrope between lovable and disturbing - basically a decent person, but given to worrying fantasies about stabbing people in the eye and burning faces off with acid. She is our new Prime Minister. Still she can't be worse than Prime Minister Barry, who went on a killing spree and is now confined to a maximum security prison.

Fortunately she has a more than capable advisor (Rhys Tees), who guides her through the particulars of governance and makes her policy ideas ("More buses, and bigger ones.") a reality. But soon our new PM is discovering that her office isn't simply smiles, speeches and giving money away - tough decisions need to be made. And isn't it a little strange that her friendly advisor keeps prodding her towards cutting funding for the poor while bolstering the finances of the rich?

Lottery is razor-sharp satire, taking aim at the corruption at the heart of modern politics and the idea that there's 'common sense' answers to incredibly complex problems. Representing the political classes is the diabolical advisor: proposing impossibly sinister supervillainish plans with a smile and acting like it's no big deal. Meanwhile Elliot Bornemann's 'normal bloke' threatens to overturn the applecart with the simple application of honesty.

Along the way Paris touches on the UK's economic reliance on selling weapons to shady regimes, 'sweetheart' corporate tax deals, reasons for picking on the already disadvantaged ("they're so resilient!"), the ways in which government money is doled out and the current trend for making law-on-the-hoof without consideration of the consequences. There's an ice-cold core of seriousness in Lottery's heart, and a correctly directed anger towards a political class detached from the reality of their decisions.

But it's also very very funny. The sheer absurdity, bizarre humour and willingness to push boundaries reminded me of two of my comedy faves, Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris. The dialogue has a particularly Chris Morris-esque flavour: characters launching into terrifyingly furious outbursts and then lapsing into preternatural calmness, the ways in which everyone seems to be frantically suppressing their inner psychopath or the simple straightforward sobriety in dealing with the deeply surreal.

This is all bolstered by a pair of fantastic comedy performances by Pickett and Tees. It's probably arguable that Pickett is playing the role a touch too weirdly, but she got me laughing so much it's difficult to pick holes. She's possessed of impressively precise comic timing; especially in the meandering flirtatious conversations she has with Bornemann. And she makes some marvellously funny faces, as if the character's neurons aren't quite hooked up right and she suffers the occasional short circuit. Tees' Luciferian advisor is also fantastic, the character snowballing from shy to domineering over the run-time and delivering a show-stopping vocals only rendition of Stayin' Alive.

Lottery is a great bit of writing, strikingly staged and excellently performed. My only criticism is that the situation it presents is so pregnant with possibilities that I wanted to explore more of the strange alterna-Britain that Simon Paris presents us with. Then again, leaving the audience wanting more is a great technique. Can't wait to see what this company comes up with next!


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