A View from Islington North at the Arts Theatre
Five playlets from five of the UK’s leading writers, directed by the esteemed Max Stafford-Clark, should be as sure a success as one could find in London theatre. Yet A View from Islington North is strangely lifeless, a series of passable satiric swipes at obvious targets that fails to stir the passions or produce any real debate.
Unsurprisingly the pick of the crop comes from the two most recognisable names on the bill: Caryl Churchill and David Hare. Churchill’s entry, Tickets Are on Sale Now, is the shortest (well, bar the cast-sung Billy Bragg song that caps off the evening) and most abstract piece on offer, a linguistic delight dealing with corporate sponsorship and insidious buzzwords. The pleasure in Churchill’s writing is the ease with which she creates something both aurally absurd yet utterly believable, the complete loss of nuanced language only a few steps away from the kind of nonsense that pervades newspapers and press releases the world over.
Hare’s contribution is even stranger: George Osborne (don’t call him Gideon) locks Theresa May in a room with Ayn Rand to hash out the particulars of the free market and free speech. The highlight is undoubtedly Ann Mitchell as the Russian-born author, keeping her accent just on the right side of caricature while tearing strips off the Home Secretary in a capitalist critique of May’s immigration policy.
Falling squarely in the shadow of The Thick of It, Alistair Beaton’s The Accidental Leader and Stella Feehily’s How to Get Ahead in Politics both explore the back-room machinations of the UK’s two main parties. Beaton focuses on Labour, with members of the Shadow Cabinet prepping a coup to oust Jeremy Corbyn. While there is plenty to enjoy about Bruce Alexander’s performance as an exasperated member of the old guard, the play quickly descends into a dialectical debate about the pros and cons of the current Labour leader, saying nothing that the audience hasn’t heard before.
Feehily, meanwhile, turns her attention to the Tories, though is ostensibly more interested in the dark underbelly of Westminster than any partisan position. In a conversation between the chief whip and a jolly old MP Feehily explores sexual harassment and the marginalised role of women in politics, though frustratingly never fully realises the bite that exists in the premise.
Sadly, this toothlessness runs throughout the entire evening (all bar Mark Ravenhill’s The Mother, a punchy, if misjudged and poorly performed, take on the home effects of warfare), sapping the energy from what could have been an interesting, and vital, exchange of political ideas.
Photos: Robert Workman
A View from Islington North is on at the Arts Theatre from 18th May until 2nd July 2016. Book your tickets here.