“I’ll come to the theatre with you. But none of your weird shit.” my friend and work colleague suggested while we were having lunch one day in April. For someone so respected in the office, she does sometimes have a direct and blunt way with words
Of course what I should have asked is “define weird.” I mean, just look at the big west end shows, surely they are “weird” when you think about it. we have people painted green, others pretending to be animals, shows based on wars, shows about autism, and god knows what else. So, what exactly is my “weird shit” anyway?
But taking her simple request into consideration, I settled on The Angry Brigade, clearly not weird at all. What is wrong with a play based (loosely) on true events from the early 70s when a small group of activists bombed a number of big targets to protest against their perceived commercialisation of the world. See, perfectly normal, nothing weird at all in that, move along, nothing to see here thank you very much.
I’m fairly certain she agreed. As I forwarded on the emails from the theatre to tell us more about the play and its history, I took her comment of “oh god what have I let myself in for?” as a clear sign her interest had been piqued. Then the night of the play finally with us, I introduced her to the marvelous Bush Theatre; “yes, it is a converted library, what’s weird about that?”
So what about the play anyway, this perfectly normal play that I picked to avoid anything too weird? Well, it really is a play of two halves, both in content and style. The first half sees the four actors as the police seeking out the activists. Then the second half they are now the activists, the same time period as the first half now re-run from their viewpoint.
As the police, everything begins very formal, very straight, very normal. Desks are neatly arranged, people correctly attired, formalities followed, tea and biscuits on offer, everything is as it should be. But as it progresses and the four police officers try to get into the minds of the activists, it slowly changes. The office becomes a mess, paper strewn everywhere, desks are moved out of line, and the officers become more relaxed, no longer the formality of earlier; in uniform or language. In short, they slowly descend into a form of anarchy.
In total contrast, the second half begins in chaotic, anarchic fashion. The four actors, now playing the activists, run around the theatre, scenes happen all over the small and intimate surroundings, making us look all around ourselves to see where the voices are coming from. Scenes descend into song and dance for no apparent reason other than it is anarchy. Other scenes flick quickly between time lines, no longer the more linear approach of the first half. And yet as they head towards the moment where the two halves collide and end, there are suggestions that the anarchists are becoming more formal; tea is even being served.
Lines slowly become blurred between the two halves, the police formality trails towards anarchy while the anarchists seem to seek more formality. You are left wondering who are the good guys and who are the bad? After all, how can the bad guys be the ones claiming to want to help others, and yet how can the good guys be the ones planting bombs? As with so much, there is no real answer, no black and white, just many blurred lines in-between.
There are some stunning performances, the ease with which the four actors switch between characters, one moment a police officer, the next a witness, then later an activist, leaves you admiring how flawless and flowing it all is.
There is clearly some artistic licence to the play, and I’m sure if I were to research the real history, much of what was portrayed tonight would be debatable as to its truthfulness.
While set in 1971, it had the feel of today, and maybe it can be questioned how much of the premise was influenced by today’s thinking. Concepts of commercialisation, a lack of trust in authority, politicians having vested interests, all maybe as true today as when the Angry Brigade were rallying against them in their time.
But as with all good theatre, the aim is to make you think, to make you discuss it. And discuss it me and my friend did as we wandered back to the tube afterwards; the concept, the stunning performances, the fantastic use of such minimal staging, and the perfectly normal non-weirdness of it all… ok, maybe the last wasn’t discussed, maybe that was in my mind?
And in-between our happy deep ramblings about what we had just seen, she stated “I want to read what you write before you put it on your blog.” And for a moment I thought that would be only fair, but then on second thoughts, we had just seen a play about anarchy, and well, I thought it only right that I should have this one act of rebellion, it’s the anarchist in me, live with it darling, live with it.
So I publish and be damned. After all my friend, it’s all just more of my “weird shit.” Take it up with me over lunch later while I try to convince you to come back to see something else perfectly as normal another time.