THE CHARMING MAN
by Gabriel Bisset-Smith.
Theatre 503 The Latchmere Pub 503 Battersea Park Rod SW11 3BW To 13 November 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm (except 30 Oct 6pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7978 7040.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 October.
Charm sits up front while principles take the ejector seat.
Satire is a dangerous thing. Its ridicule and laughter can undermine the intensity of argument. That’s something which compromises Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s often involving new play. Bisset-Smith looks to an English political future where Coalition credibility’s gone the way of New Labour’s. The hard right apart, what’s left? The playwright lights on the Greens, which he shows as a party become infirm of purpose, maturing leader Sarah unable to withstand the barrage of questions political limelight brings.
The party’s looking for a front-man and Sarah thinks she’s found him in keen community questioner Darren. He’s Black, which is good, and gay which is less so – at least when sexuality and ethnicity combine in their demands on public acceptance. Bisset-Smith clearly analyses the stress that being under the media microscope brings, both on private life and political purity.
The first act builds this beautifully. But it only takes an interval for the laughter-side of satire to risk all that’s been constructed. Politics as reality-show, with TV audiences ‘electing’ a rival leader scoops reality from underneath the action. It might do well in a cabaret-style revue but sideslips the serious issues faced elsewhere in the play.
Which are handled with skilled assurance by a strong cast in Paul Robinson’s suitably slick, fast-paced production. Furniture’s assembled out of wood-blocks as blank as the politicians’ inner lives, and moved around for immediate convenience, like anyone who comes within their orbit.
Sarah Berger’s sophisticated party leader is nearest to holding onto humanity, while Kate Sissons is adept as her younger, ambitious rival, displaying keenness at the job, vulture-like proposals for self-promotion and barely-concealed coldness beneath the glacial smile of a marriage of political convenience.
Either side stand Syrus Lowe’s Darren, unhappy as he’s enmeshed in political compromise, Sam Pamphilon as the lover who feels discarded, Simon Rivers as the victimised Suman – and opposite them, David Verrey’s dry-voiced, self-loathingly sarcastic political fixer and Christopher Brandon as a journalist whose twisting of words to fit a pre-set agenda is topped by the intrusive questioning of his cynical radio interviewer. It’s in these stark characters satire truly meets drama.
Darren: Syrus Lowe.
Sarah: Sarah Berger.
Marcus: David Verrey.
Luke: Sam Pamphilon.
Olivia: Kate Sissons.
Kenny Fox/Chris Warren: Christopher Brandon.
Suman/David Dhariwal: Simon Rivers.
Director: Paul Robinson.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Kevin Treacy.
Sound/Music: Simon Slater.
Movement: Ally Holmes.
Assistant director: Anna Ostergren.