Friday, November 2, 2018

Review: 'Brexit' at the King's Head Theatre, 31st October 2018

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

A bell rings in a North London pub and someone yells "ten minutes until Brexit!" A collective shudder passes through the well-to-do metropolitan crowd at the idea as we dutifully file into the theatre. I'm shuddering as well - I hate Brexit. It's not just that we're the laughing stock of the world, not just the ridiculous flag-waving nationalism, not just that we're about to commit economic seppuku - but because it is so fucking boring.

I work in politics and law, but Brexit has gobbled up so much the news for so long that even I am beginning to tune it out as white noise. The endless internecine spats in the Tories, the half-assed rebellions of the Labour right, the mewling of the right-wing press and #FBPE types on Twitter. If Britain is destined to end up in a Mad Max style hellscape I wish it'd happen already just so we can get it over with.

But that's not the future that Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky's Brexit imagines. Set a few years in the future, we find Britain still negotiating with the EU and trapped in an extended transition period. New Prime Minister Adam Masters (Timothy Bentinck) is the latest to place his neck on the chopping block -  his only ambition to outlast the short 1922-23 premiership of Andrew Bonar Law, who bowed out in under a year (due to throat cancer).

His plan to 'beat Brexit' is zugzwang - a chess term for a situation in which making any move puts you at a disadvantage. Therefore, he chooses to do nothing at all, playing the hardcore leavers against the remainers. The leavers are represented by Simon Cavendish (Thom Tuck): a deeply unpleasant amalgam of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove, while the remainers' champion is Diana Purdy (Pippa Evans), who seems vaguely Amber Rudd-ish (with a pinch of Vicky Ford). 

With equal but opposing forces locked in stalemate, his strategy pretty much consists of the classic "hide under some coats and hope that somehow everything will work out". Naturally, this doesn't go to plan - and the play spirals towards farce as the Prime Minister desperately avoids committing to a course of action.

It's a cynical piece of theatre - but then these are cynical times. Perhaps the most believable aspect of it is the lead character's sheer terror of ideology. Towards the end of the play, he bemoans his situation, saying that he's got "a right-wing press that despises my every action - even though I tried hard not to take any. And a left-wing press that despises me for my beliefes - even though I tried very hard not to have any!Later, a betrayal by his friend and advisor Paul Connell (Adam Astill) prompts the accusation - "you betrayed our friendship for ideology!"

Like, no shit, dude. If Brexit gets anything right, it's the failure of centrist politicians to understand their own ideology. Brexit's PM paints himself as the epitome of non-ideological moderation, treating 'remainer' and 'leaver' as equally valid abstractions that must be placated rather than understood (notably he merely glances through their lengthy policy proposals). 

The conclusion is a reminder that doing nothing can be far worse than being decisive, that convincing yourself that market and social liberalism combined with a soft nationalism isn't ideological but 'common sense' is ridiculous.  I mean, say what you like about the tenets of far-right leavers, but at least it's an ethos. It's a smart conclusion to a perceptive piece of drama. But, sadly, there are a couple of flies in the ointment. 

The dowdy set design of a couple of chairs and a scuffed, cheap desk against a plain black backdrop does little to convey the wood-panelled gentlemen's club atmosphere of No. 10 and the Houses of Parliament (and I doubt whether any contemporary PM would wear a three-piece suit on a day-to-day basis). 

Plus, for a comedy, Brexit just doesn't have that many laughs. There's a couple of cringey panel-show style political jabs that pass over the audience without so conjuring so much as a titter, and while the play does eventually conjure up a couple of genuinely funny moments they are few and far between.

Brexit nails the philosophical morass of its subject, rightly portraying the process as some nebulous concept that means different things to everyone: a Gordian knot that can never be satisfyingly sliced apart. As a piece of drama? It's a bit too loose, languid and mildly diverting - throw in a bit more bite and passion and you'd be onto something.

Brexit is at the King's Head Theatre until 17 October. Tickets here.

Production shots by Steve Ullathorne

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'Brexit' at the King's Head Theatre, 31st October 2018”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights