Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: 'Wet Bread' at the King's Head Theatre, 10th July 2017

Wet Bread reviewed by David James

Rating: 3 Stars

Nothing puts hairs on your chest like being the object of satire. This is Tom Glover's Wet Bread, a one-woman show that takes down of 'yer typical die-hard left-wing activist who abhors meat, engages in endless political campaigns, tries to stand up for the downtrodden and creams their knickers at the mention of Jeremy Bernard Corbyn.

As a die-hard left-wing activist who abhors meat, engages in endless political campaigns, tries to stand up for the trodden and creams his knickers at the mention of Jeremy Bernard Corbyn, I found plenty that made me uncomfortably shift in my seat.

Our heroine Adele (Morag Sims) is anti everything: meat, Israel, military intervention, climate change, homelessness and, above all else, the fucking Tories. We meet her haranguing an undecided voter just before the 2015 general election, eventually yelling "Fascist!" at her and stomping off in a huff. 

Glover and Sims quickly sketch a portrait of someone whose heart might be in the right place but whose social skills leave much to be desired. Adele is constantly haranguing her friends and family, eager to impress her many viewpoints upon them. Her holier-than-thou attitude drives one of her friends to give her an ultimatum: you have a year to change the world through protesting or you give up politics for good. And so, with the gauntlet lying at her feet, Adele gets to work.

What follows is a gradual and frustratingly slow process of enlightenment, wherein Adele's various efforts to improve the lives of the local and global downtrodden founder on the rocks of reality. It turns out that women suffering domestic violence don't need to be told of the existence of shelters, that leading an anti-fracking sit-in doesn't work if you turn up when the building is closed, and that you cannot rehabilitate a piss-sodden alcoholic tramp through the force of your personality alone.

Unsaid throughout is the suspicion that Adele is just virtue signalling her way through life. Are her various campaigns and arguments borne as much from a desire to convince herself that she's a 'good' person rather than having a genuine desire to make the world a better place. This is something I can quite vividly identify with - and I have a great example. 

Just before the play began I was locking up my bike outside the pub when I saw a drunk, homeless woman career into a telephone box and smack into the pavement with a painful thud. I went over and collected the stuff she'd dropped and put it back in her carrier bags, checked it she was okay and helped her to her feet. Fair enough, you might think, seems like the decent thing to do. And yet, while doing all this I couldn't help but think, "the people sitting outside this pub must think I'm dead awesomely kind and super empathetic and just oh-so-amazing in general".

It's vain and self-centred thinking - you could even argue that I'm exploiting this poor woman's misfortune to get a dopamine hit of self-righteousness. But regardless of whether I was puffing up my mental plumage or not, I got her off the pavement. After all, if the end result is positive, then the internal motivation is irrelevant. Wet Bread understands this: while Adele might take in a homeless man mainly as an 'I told you so' move to win an argument, she ends up doing some genuine good in the world.

The show begins to wind up with a plea to tolerate philosophical and political differences, with an exhortation to value what unites rather than divides us. Very laudable, though sadly Wet Bread it concludes on a sour note with our political warrior erecting a final set of protest signs: "Stop Fighting" and "Just Love".

This is wishy-washy feelgood bullshit. If you stop fighting and start loving then the assholes are going to run rampant. Sure, Adele's fighting is largely futile (Glover is depressingly dead-on with his critique of mass marches), but even if it is self-aggrandising it's better than nothing. For a character like Adele to wave a placard that says 'stop fighting' is just depressing. And "Just Love" is precisely the kind of gloopy meaningless marketing rubbish that's gotten us the shitty, individualistic society we're in today.

It's a real shame, up to the last couple of minutes Wet Bread was reflecting some of my worst qualities back at me and giving me a lot to think about. It's a good show, well-performed and ploughing some extremely fertile comedic soil (with more than a shade of the excellent Citizen Smith). But the concluding statement of the piece is a bizarre call to inaction that really rubbed me up the wrong way, as if it was setting the parameters of what political activism should be (i.e. safe and unthreatening).

Wet Bread walks down a compelling path. It's just a shame that disappointment lies at the end of it.

Wet Bread is at the King's Head Theatre tonight and Thursday. Details here.

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