Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Angry Brigade

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Angry Brigade

Article excerpt

The Angry Brigade

Bush Theatre, until 13 June

The Merchant of Venice

Globe, in rep until 7 June

If Julian, Dick, George and Anne had become terrorists they'd have called themselves The Angry Brigade. It's such a Wendy house name. The quartet of violent outcasts met in a Camden squat in the late Sixties and moved to Stoke Newington where they rented a house to deflect unwanted attention. They began planting bombs around London in the hope of jerking the proles from their consumerist trance and sparking a communist war. They preferred catchy locations for their fireworks: the Albert Hall, a BBC film unit, an MP's garden. And it took the cops ages to track them down and sling them in jail.

James Graham's new play uses a neat staging device. There are four terrorists and four detectives, and the same actors play both hunters and quarry. But the sprawling script features a handful of cameo roles as well and this mars the purity of the original scheme. The show might have been better researched. In the 1970s no one said 'bog-standard', 'box-ticking' or 'go-to' (as in 'expert'). The telephones chirrup with the American, not the British sound-pattern. Ditto the police sirens. Neither of the male actors reaches the minimum height (5 ft 8 inches) stipulated by the Met in those days. And these young thesps are far too fresh and pink-cheeked to play senior detectives at Scotland Yard, so the investigation scenes have an atmosphere of parody that doesn't suit the material.

Although Graham is a skilful weaver of plot lines, he dispenses with this great talent and offers us a series of busy vignettes. It can feel flimsy. The kindergarten Marxists consist of two Cambridge dropouts and a pair of nice girls from suburbia. They're all clever, comfortably off and expensively educated, which proves that if you give people everything you make them dissatisfied. When they're not denouncing the brain-dead suburbs and making weird speeches analysing 'ironing' as an act of violence, they like to sing nursery rhymes, school hymns and TV ditties. Secretly they hanker for the world they've vowed to destroy. And they conceal their bombs in boxes of soap powder and kiddies' cereal, which suggests that their real target is the domestic hearth, family love and childhood. Gosh, what a ropey crew of whiners. I'm not convinced that the playwright likes them either. Hardly surprising. They combine arrogance and ignorance in equal measure. …

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