A View From Islington North – review

Karl Sydow & Out of Joint present
A View from Islington North
The Mother by Mark Ravenhill
Tickets Are Now On Sale by Caryl Churchill
The Accidental Leader by Alistair Beaton
Ayn Rand Takes a Stand by David Hare
How to Get Ahead in Politics by Stella Feehily
Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

A view from across the street

A view from across the street

With a young family, and a country, still trying to come to terms with the tragic and brutal murder of Jo Cox on 16 June, was a trip to the Arts Theatre in London two days later to see a collection of satirical plays ‘too soon’ to consider the question posed in the programme, ‘is laughter a catalyst for change’?

Featuring five of Britain’s big-name playwrights, pomposity is pricked in the assorted axes of power, spin and the free market.

Mark Ravenhill’s The Mother opens the collection with Hayley Morrison’s (Kathryn O’Reilly) unrelenting volley of choice language poor defence for the bad news she knows she is about to receive regarding her soldier son. This is an emotionally raw and painful piece, and O’Reilly totally convinces as a woman on the precipice of collapse. Less convincing, however, is Major Dawlish (Jane Wymark), not the acting but the inconsistency of the character; delivering this kind of news can’t be easy but her own protestations about her situation came from left field.

Next, an all-too-brief signature Caryl Churchill with Tickets Are Now On Sale. Characters One (Kathryn O’Reilly) and Two (Steve John Shepherd) constantly re-set a simple scene of meeting and going for a walk via a non-sensical yet understandable jumble of corporate propaganda and marketing speak. Somehow, it all made sense and several clever barbs hit the spot.

Alistair Beaton’s The Accidental Leader is the first of only two previously unperformed pieces, and gives an insight into current internal power struggles within the Labour party. The current leader (‘Martin’), is too scruffy to be taken seriously, yet members voted him in with an overwhelming majority. With the message that the party should rally behind their democratically elected leader rather than creating divisions seems like yesterday’s news to me, although tell that to the media. Bruce Alexander as Jim sees his plot to take control disintegrate with increasing dismay.

In newly-written Ayn Rand Takes a Stand, David Hare scores most direct hits against our current government as Gideon Osborne (please, call me George), has a Jacob Marley-style visitation from Ayn Rand, a wonderfully cougaresque Ann Mitchell. Rand helps Osborne demonstrate the flaws in Conservative thinking and practice, particularly where free speech and security are concerned. Theresa May (Jane Wymark) flounders whilst trying to answer the question “how can you have a free market without the free movement of labour?”. Hmmm.

Finally, Stella Feehily demonstrates How To Get Ahead in Politics with an amusing poke at party whips managing a PR crisis. Again, Bruce Alexander as the Chief Whip is all too believable as he guides errant MPs and candidates through the inconvenience of equality and diversity policies. A nice twist at the end, too.

Considering the sequencing of the plays, I wonder if ending the collection with The Mother would have heightened the emotion further? Whilst politicians’ spin, bluster and power- struggle away, here in this broken woman’s simple sitting room, the effect of decisions taken in the ivory tower of power (and not always in our name), hits you where cover ups aren’t possible.

With the real-life antics of some of our political representatives already beyond farce, this kind of satire, whilst well-written, superbly acted and produced, left me feeling I’d just watched the news. Many of us have been raised on a diet of subversion, such as Private Eye, Spitting Image and Mock the Week so a little less subtlety may have helped. We know  more than enough of what goes on in Whitehall, but what can we do and where can we go now to challenge this?

Billy Bragg’s ‘No Buddy, No’ sung by the company rounds off the performances, with the telling line ‘What’s the point of winning at any cost if everything remains the same?’

Arts Theatre, London until 2 July

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