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Chris Thompson has written a very timely play about the far right, even more timely post-Clacton (though I suspect they didn’t know this when it was commissioned / written). The subject and issues are ripe for dramatisation.

The Albion is a traditional boozer in Tower Hamlets which has traditional British karaoke (!)  five nights a week. Landlord Paul also happens to be the leader of the EPA, a fictional party rather like the BNP. His sister Poppy is fighting with the British forces in the Middle-East. His sister’s boyfriend Kyle is his EPA deputy and he’s black. His brother Jason is also an EPA activist and he’s gay. Jason has started a relationship with a gay Muslim he met on gaydar. Social worker Christine joins them as a sort of spin doctor, though perhaps with a hidden agenda, when she’s scapegoated and fired over failing to deal with a grooming case (some step relative of Paul’s that wasn’t entirely clear to me) in fear of accusations of racism. It doesn’t take long before he EPA is disintegrating.

The Bush IS the Albion, complete with bar, pool table and karaoke stage (design by James Button). Almost every scene takes place in the pub during a karaoke evening, with characters performing songs, the lyrics of which are often an integral part of the narrative. This is a clever and original idea but it’s overplayed. There’s way too much karaoke, including a fair number of complete songs. It lengthens the play and robs it of depth and subtlety. Frankly, I don’t want to sit in a theatre watching someone sing Delilah poorly to a backing track (sorry, Delroy Atkinson). It covers almost every issue that has led to the growth of, and is now leading to the success of, the far right but it does so too superficially. To compound the issue, the play has an embarrassingly excruciating ending.

I admire the intention, I like the originality of the structure, it’s well staged by Ria Parry and I thought all of the performances were very good, but it’s heavy-handed and it didn’t entirely work for me I’m afraid.

 

 

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This is a hugely impressive first play by someone with real world experience of its subject matter, and it shows. What I like most about it is that it takes a subject rarely staged and it doesn’t take sides; it presents you with single mum Anne & her son Tommy’s tragic story for you to consider for yourself.

Tommy was born in prison when his pregnant mother was incarcerated at just 15. Now Tommy is 15 and he is in turn incarcerated. In eleven scenes, we see their relationships with each other and with prison officer, young offender’s institute case worker and social worker then and now and examine their respective responsibilities for their fate.

It’s a gripping 90 minutes, in no small part due to the performances, particularly from Claire-Louise Cordwell as Anne (also ever so good in Hampstead Theatre’s revival of Ecstasy three years ago) and outstanding newcomer Jack McMullen as Tommy. With the audience on two sides, there’s a claustrophobic and voyeuristic feel to Robert Hastie’s production which provides both intimacy and tension.

Chris Thompson’s play is objective and it oozes authenticity. It’s not always easy to watch, but it needs to be seen. I’ve been puzzling over why its called Carthage and I’ve decided it’s more likely to be the Irish name meaning ‘loving’ than the ancient Tunisian city! The Finborough at the cutting edge – again.

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