General Election Inspires Orgy Of Political Theatre

By Londonist Last edited 40 months ago
General Election Inspires Orgy Of Political Theatre

Around a general election we tend to see politicians grinning grimly as they try to avoid making gaffes, civil servants gagged by purdah, and TV broadcasters falling over themselves to demonstrate balance. So it's the ideal time for other art-forms to weigh in, get political and reflect the real conscience of the nation. The theatre traditionally enjoys a bit of MP-baiting around this period and so we thought it was worth rounding up some of the political plays coming soon, ranging from the fierce to the farcical, the serious to the silly.

The Vote at Donmar Warehouse.

Bang On Message

The Vote is a real-time general election drama at the Donmar by political specialist James Graham. It stars a cast of fifty which includes Judi Dench, Catherine Tate and Mark Gatiss as characters in a polling station. Two weeks of performances (with tickets available through a ballot) lead up to a live TV broadcast on polling day.

The smaller scale Kingmaker staged Above The Arts Theatre concerns the preposterous idea of a scruffy, bumbling ex-mayor revealing a heart of cold steel as he manoeuvres himself into power — oh dear.

Historical Plays

Peddling backwards (as MPs so often do), there are several productions which delve into the dramas of yesteryear. Two plays tackle the Thatcher legend: Dead Sheep at Park Theatre dramatizes the descent of the Iron Lady at the hand of her one time friend and political soul mate, Geoffrey Howe. Then there's The Bombing of The Grand Hotel which looks at the attempted assassination of Thatcher in Brighton in 1984 and the unlikely relationship it triggered. More light-hearted perhaps is The Lady's Not For Walking Like an Egyptian which splices together the best bits of Maggie's speeches with the lyrics of pop songs by female artists in the charts at the same time.

Another historical figure on stage is Tony Benn in Tony’s Last Tape at the small but strident Bridge House Theatre, with a story based on the famous diaries of the pipe-chewing left-winger. At the opposite end of London, and indeed the political spectrum is The Tulip Tree at the Drayton Arms, all about the private life of controversial conservative Enoch Powell.

Issues

Unsurprisingly, there are a rash of plays exploring some of the big questions that an election throws up. Beyond Caring, the second show to transfer from Hackney Wick’s Yard Theatre to the National exposes stories of an invisible class with its focus on four meat factory workers on the night shift. The similarly ironically titled Who Cares presents a journeying performance at the Royal Court theatre, in which actors will give voice to the unheard perspectives on the past, present and possible future of our NHS.

The housing crisis is also a hot topic being tackled in Mike Bartett's Game and Philip Ridley's Radiant Vermin, both of which are nearly at the end of their runs, but well worth a look if you can grab a ticket. Deposit at the Hampstead Theatre similarly presents one foursome’s desperate yet practical solution to get onto the London housing ladder.

There's also Creditors, a new version of a Strindberg classic, which looks at how old debts can come back to haunt us at Brockley Jack. And Benefit about life on the dole, which pops up in several venues including the Pleasance and Canada Water Culture Space. The surliest of the lot however may be Animals at the excellent Theatre 503, which depicts a dystopian future where being a “burden on society” is considered a crime.

Farringdon's Theatre Delicatessen also has an interesting pair of plays with The Candidate, in which the audience helps create their ideal politician, and The Heart Of Adrian Lovett about the dismantling of the NHS. There's also a double bill of politically-charged opera in Old Street's Courtyard theatre with Into the Little Hill which takes on the anti-immigration lobby and The Soldier’s Tale which questions capitalist ethics.

Special Seasons

Beleaguered Battersea Arts Centre presents an extended festival of political fare as part of its Taking A Stand season. Early Days (of a better nation) is an immersive show that asks its audience to participate as survivors of a society ravaged by war. Running over General Election time, the audience must decide how they will run their new nation (venue tbc). Playwright Chris Goode has compiled stories of courage and conscience, in Stand, a drama about six individuals who have stood up for what they believe in, including protests against fracking and other causes. There's a whole load of other stuff from #Torycore (described as a recitation of the budget remixed as an exorcism) to a welcome reprise of Mark Thomas' Cuckooed.

Camden’s Peoples Theatre has also locked in on the election with a season of punchy work under the banner The State We’re In. This includes beat-boxing about zero hours contracts in No Milk For The Foxes; a play inspired by Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine called Electric Dreams; plus Hustings and late night political jamboree Party State on the Saturday before election night.

Soho Theatre’s Political Party is a bit more tenuous perhaps with the usual varied roster of shows and stand-up edging towards the topical, ones to especially look out for are Lampedusa about migrants risking their lives and the acclaimed Johnny and the Baptists who bring their Rock the Vote show to the West End in time for 7 May.

On a side note, there's also a new advocacy document from UK Theatre, aiming to highlight the importance of the stage — worth a look too.

By Belinda Liversedge and Stu Black. Featured image by Sven Loach from the Londonist Flickr pool.

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Last Updated 01 April 2015