Political Satire For The Corbyn Era: A View From Islington North, Reviewed

A View From Islington North, Arts Theatre ★★★★☆

By James FitzGerald Last edited 29 months ago
Political Satire For The Corbyn Era: A View From Islington North, Reviewed A View From Islington North, Arts Theatre 4
Sarah Alexander, Joseph Prowen, and Bruce Alexander in Alistair Beaton's The Accidental Leader, one of five short plays on offer. Photo courtesy of Robert Workman.

Say what you like about the Member for Islington North, but Jeremy Corbyn's time in the Labour hot seat has prompted much more chat about how politicians should look, sound, and behave - which is only a good thing. It was only a matter of time before the West End elected to show a sharp satirical revue like this one, named in honour of the bearded one's London constituency.

Fierce and on-point, A View from Islington North comprises five skits from some of the nation's most distinguished playwrights. It looks at straight party-politics, as well as chewing over contemporary issues which have relevance far beyond the Westminster bubble.

That means there's room for Stella Feehily's tale about the life of a parliamentary whip — a job involving "bullying, bribery, and blackmail" – but also for a Caryl Churchill's short sketch about a regular couple speaking gobbledigook, because in their parallel universe, even language seems to be part of some capitalist conspiracy.

But the evening starts with a visceral performance from Sarah Alexander (of Green Wing and Coupling fame). She plays a mother in denial over the death of her son in military combat, in Mark Ravenhill's broadside which targets British foreign policy.

The present Tory civil war gets a reenactment in David Hare's Ayn Rand Takes a Stand, which muses on the compromises that come with power. It imagines the titular novelist in the same room as George Osborne and Theresa May (Ann Mitchell, Steve John Shepherd, and Jane Wymark respectively). A discussion of the word 'freedom' reveals that the Chancellor's views on markets and the Home Secretary's views on labour movement are totally at odds.

As you'd expect, that one is pretty polemical — and a little lengthy.  But politics buffs will surely love the comprehensiveness and extreme attention to detail which director Max Stafford-Clark brings to the proceedings — perfectly exemplified by the leopard-print high heels worn by the Theresa May character.

Perhaps the most successful of the mini-plays is Alistair Beaton's story about a backbench MP plotting to unseat his party leader. The leader is not named, but he is undoubtedly Corbyn. Bruce Alexander plays the sweating, scheming backbencher figure, who is ultimately out-schemed by the leader's loyalists Impetus, a thinly-veiled parody of the group Momentum.

The show closes with a song penned by Billy Bragg, which considers the eternal futility of this whole damned business of politics, as well as its loveable absurdity — finding a crumb of comforting amusement via a sly reference to Lynton Crosby's infamous "dead cat" strategy.     

The Thick of It might have reinvented this type of comedy for TV audiences from the New Labour generation, but with tonight’s entertainment arriving so soon after the packed-out Corbyn: The Musical last month, it's pleasing to see like material like this filling theatres too. So, even if you think your party is falling to bits, at least the old institution of political satire looks as trusty as ever.   

A View from Islington North runs until 2 July at the Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JB. Tickets from £10. Londonist saw this performance with a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 25 May 2016