by David Halliwell.

Southwark Playhouse (The Little) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 1 August 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 July.

Little Malcolm makes a forceful if ambiguous impact.
David Halliwell had a way with titles, including, in 1979, A Rite Kwik Metal Tata, while, hardly spoken of nowadays, his play Prejudice provoked picketing at its 1978 Sheffield premiere.

At under three hours Little Malcolm’s barely half its original six-hour mara-rant. Original director Mike Leigh has proceeded to fame and acclaim. Now Clive Judd takes on the story of the sixties Huddersfield art student who responds to expulsion by setting-up the Party of Dynamic Erection, with less than a handful of supporters. Behind the megalomania is a crazy revenge plot against the College head.

Malcolm, in 1965, when dictators seemed comic in Britain, builds towers of commanding confidence on a swamp of indecision in a play framed by his inability to act (even to get out of bed), while his bedsit speeches receive tinny applause from an old tape-recorder.

Daniel Easton captures Malcolm’s brooding anger, relief when giving orders brings a rest from uncertainty, and self-hating callousness. His varying moods once seemed humorous. Yet, despite neatly characterised work by his acolytes – apart from early moments when speed battles verbal clarity – the production‘s humour sags. This might vary with audiences, but is more likely down to changing times.

How do today’s student audiences, with accumulating loans and fees, take to Malcolm’s talk of his student grant? Kidnappings have acquired a new reality from the seventies onwards. As the play’s politics become edgier, laughter freezes like Malcolm in his bedsit.

Then, there’s Ann, appearing in the final act. Halliwell counterpoises Malcolm’s political fervour with raging timidity over asking her out. But when Rochenda Sandall’s Ann arrives – the only one to enter quietly – with a sympathetic maturity lacking among the lads, she meets male rage, which drags sexual fear into the masculine territory of political hate. If it’s not more distasteful than ever, five decades of feminism have passed for little.

Yet, whatever Halliwell finally felt about Malcolm, and despite the shifts in opinion over half-a-century its energy makes this more than a period piece, while Easton’s fresh-faced brooding firmly imprints the little dictator wrapped in grand political rhetoric on the mind.

Malcolm: Daniel Easton.
Irwin: Barney McElholm.
Wick: Laurie Jamieson.
Nipple: Scott Arthur.
Ann: Rochenda Sandall.

Director: Clive Judd.
Designer: Jemma Robinson.
Lighting: Elanor Hiiggins.
Sound: Giles Thomas.

2015-07-20 21:01:26

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