Review: Mel Giedroyc Stars In Hard-Hitting Extremism Story Luce

Luce at Southwark Playhouse ★★★☆☆

By James FitzGerald Last edited 33 months ago
Review: Mel Giedroyc Stars In Hard-Hitting Extremism Story Luce Luce at Southwark Playhouse 3
Mel Giedroyc (Amy) and Martins Imhangbe (Luce). Photo: Ollie King

Luce is a rare type of political play that doesn’t get too bogged down by the actual politics. JC Lee’s ferociously contemporary drama is mostly concerned with the pressures which drive young people to do very stupid things; perhaps even acts of terrorism.

That it has not — until now — been staged outside the US might seem surprising, since young people across the world do very stupid things all the time, and some even become terrorists. But actually, Luce is more interested in America than it is with radicalised nutters. Its story really has to happen in the land of Grade Point Averages, high-school American football scholarships and exceptional sensitivity over personal liberties.

Luce (Martins Imhangbe) lives with his adoptive parents, having been rescued at a young age from a conflict in Africa. It doesn’t matter which one: it is enough to know that there remains in this teenager some very real remnants of trauma, even if he appears to now be the perfect all-American all-rounder. Bright and talented at football, he seems destined for a college scholarship and greatness.

So there is horror from mom and pop (Mel Giedroyc and Nigel Whitmey) when his teacher (Natasha Gordon) discovers in Luce’s locker some fireworks — containing some highly potent gunpowder — and an essay which seems to praise a right-wing terrorist. Has there been some misunderstanding?

The play excels, perhaps rather too well, at the infernal business of keeping you guessing. Absolute truths never emerge; communication always fall apart; the air thickens with a fug of paranoia and cigarette smoke as Luce’s parents speculate, itching.

The boy himself has plausible excuses, but his very smiles are deadly as well as dead charming. His need to rebel against others’ expectations of him is certain — but the form that might take, and his capacity for violence, is totally enshrouded.

There is so much left open-ended, in fact, that it’s sometimes easy to disengage from some of the play’s most pertinent debates. On surveillance, for example. Whether or not Luce is right to feel violated when his locker is searched is a question that gets lost somewhere in the vast ambiguity over his innocence. Turns out that figuring out a personality and figuring out politics are just the same, then. Who said there'd ever be straight answers?

Luce runs until 2 April at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD. Tickets from £12. Londonist saw this performance with a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 13 March 2016