by David Edgar.
Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park To 27 July 2013.
Mon, Tue, Thu-Sat 7.45pm Wed 8pm Mat Wed 3pm; Sat 2.45pm.
Audio-described 12 July; 20 July 2.45pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 June.
Political possibilities set-out with perception and humour.
If only David Edgar had called his new play ‘The Eighteenth Camel’ he could have pointed more forcefully to the story highlighting the flimsy political structure on which England’s current Coalition government is built.
Edgar is hardly speaking to his natural constituency in West Sussex, part of the Blue wash across central and southern England. Yet his mature work examines political processes in a way that could fascinate all. It’s done with a detailed knowledge, perception of causes and clarity of expression matched by no-one else writing for the stage here and now – and a theatrical skill which recognises, as did Bernard Shaw, the value of humour.
If Only is almost a double-bill of interlinked one-acters, having the same characters but set in past and future. Both make suppositions, as the title implies. First, Edgar conveniently strands representatives of the major English-based political parties at a Spanish airport owing to the Icelandic volcanic ash grounding flights (an ingenious pairing of ash and election).
They create their own tense coalition for practical purposes as they search-out food, transport and mobile ’phone chargers. Rivalry’s never far beneath surface co-operation as they discuss voting scenarios. It’s here the eighteenth camel emerges, a mathematical paradox, something necessary yet inessential. If it were established in the title, they might not have to go on reminding each other, and the audience, of its significance.
Here, and in a second act set in 2014, where the three meet during a Great War centenary event, Edgar has patches with characters telling each other what they must already know. Yet, elsewhere, ideas crackle as characters develop scenarios to deal with the complexities of possible future coalitions.
New terms enter the 2014 dialogue – twitter, UKIP. And the fourth person, named only Hannah in her early insignificance, develops to contrast the one politician with a moral, as well as political, conscience (interestingly, the Conservative).
Edgar focuses on political argument, giving only enough character and story to allow this to develop. But it’s rare to find such insight onstage. Or as well-presented as by this first-class cast in Angus Jackson’s assured production.
Jo Lambert: Charlotte Lucas.
Peter Greatorex: Jamie Glover.
Sam Hunt: Martin Hutson.
Hannah: Eve Ponsonby.
Director: Angus Jackson.
Designer: Ruth Sutcliffe.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.
Sound: Sebastian Frost.
Music: Isobel Waller-Bridge.
Video: Duncan McLean.