Billy Bragg and Mick Gordon
Billy Bragg has been a welcome figure in the news lately, speaking out against bankers' bonus culture and confronting Richard Barnbrook in Barking and Dagenham out on the campaign trail with Hope Not Hate. Now he's flying the flag for new collaborative project, Pressure Drop, part of Wellcome's Identity project and the Kings Cross Reveal Festival, which opened this week in the Collection's main gallery space.
Transformed into an open space with Bragg's band stage as a focus, the action takes place in a church at one end, a living room at the other and, in between, a pub. Billy is an affable host, setting the scene and providing excellent original incidental music but also, importantly, marshalling the crowd between scenes, encouraging them not to be afraid of the actors and to infiltrate whatever space is available so that small people can see what's going on.
Mick Gordon's "drama of passion and prejudice" is both an exploration of identity - what home and England mean; the pressures on people to be a certain way and what makes you who you are and - and a totally topical play illuminating fears about immigration and the rise of the BNP on a troubled estate.
A white, working class family's grandad has died. He was a game old boy, an army veteran with a love of reggae and ska who, given the choice, would come back black (better food, better music....). Of his two sons, Jack has married Jackie and had a son. They still live with Nana in the family home. The other son, Jonathon, got out of England for the US to make his money as a trader. Friend of the family Tony and his son Barney catalyse tensions within the family, pushing his extreme views about immigrants on them and pressurising Jack to stand for the local council on a far right ticket. Set around the already sad family funeral, a further community tragedy forces difficult choices to be made.
While the play feels a little long and the audience's movement around the sets are frustratingly sheepish, with views are blocked and bits missed, it's a slickly designed production with powerful performances, perfectly synchronised with its musical interludes. You won't fail to come away singing the theme song and wondering if you should play it at your funeral. But at £20 a ticket it seems unlikely Pressure Drop will be seen by audiences much wider than right-on Billy Bragg fans (who'll feel like it's Christmas) and Wellcome's loyal liberal middle classes.
Pressure Drop is at Wellcome Collection until 12 May. 7.30pm start, runs 90 mins with no interval and the audience stands throughout.