THE ANGRY BRIGADE
by James Graham.
Palace Theatre 20 Clarendon Road WD17 1JZ To 25 October 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 October 2014 at Watford Palace Theatre.
Well-researched, if not documentary, you’re likely to like one half.
Between 1970 and 1972 a very English left-wing terror group operated in London. Other countries had kidnappings and killings; the Angry Brigade blew doors off posh houses or flour-bombed Miss United Kingdom.
When, that was, their bombs, wrapped in cereal packages, started exploding at all. And all the time they sent out violently-worded Communiqués, warning the Establishment they were coming closer.
These terrorists turned-out to comprise four ex-students, two of whom destroyed their own careers when they ripped-up their Cambridge finals exam papers, one of whom couldn’t resist the urge to keep contacting the society she was supposed to be destroying.
Playwright James Graham has come-up with a distinctly divided play about them. One half (Graham says the acts can be played in either order, or simultaneously) shows the investigation by a special Branch set-up within the police, the other the dynamics of the four brigadiers. He suggests the police scenes should be “ rigid … a world of order… presented as painfully conventional as possible”.
It starts that way, with Harry Melling’s Commander played, in seventies terms, with a dose of Leonard Rossiter and a whiff of Eric Idle, the cop team moving stiffly, hardly knowing how to relax at work.
But as they proceed, their ordered office and behaviour become more eccentric, attempts at fresh thoughts expressed through a flurry of different angles to sit on a chair that might have been a tryout for Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.
And red tape flows three-dimensionally round the office, in pre-computer days, giving a festive look when excitement mounts near-orgasmically as evidence and deduction mark-out the likely location of the gang.
Contrastingly, the supposed “offensive, anarchic mess” of the Brigade scenes is largely introspective and surprisingly ordered, focusing on the vulnerability beneath the anger, and two personal histories, while hardly touching the apparent leader’s nature.
Director James Grieve and a strong cast can’t overcome the difference in dramatic manner. After the interval, a viewer might miss the first act’s narrative pace, or welcome the exploration of individual psychologies which emerges. Yet the contrast doesn’t combine into a whole.
Morris/The Commander/The Prophet/The Snitch/The Manager/Jim: Harry Melling.
Smith/John: Felix Scott.
Henderson/Anna: Patsy Ferran.
Parker/The Expert/The Model/The Girl/Hilary: Scarlett Alice Johnson.
Director: James Grieve.
Designer: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: Charles Balfour.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Movement: Polly Bennett.
Assistant director: Hannah Banister.
The Angry Brigade is presented by Paines Plough Theatre Company and The Theatre Royal Plymouth. First performance was at The Drum Theatre Theatre Royal Plymouth on 18 September 2014.