“We have a parliamentary democracy for a reason,” says the once thrusting but now cancer-ridden right-wing atheist academic in the second act of Mike Bartlett's epic expose of a Britain on the verge of collapse. “The people can't be trusted.” Hearing those words in the heat of the anti-capitalist Occupy protests when the play was first seen in 2011 is one thing. Hearing them just a few grim weeks after the Conservative Party's Westminster victory in this May's UK General Election sounds chillingly pertinent.
This is especially the case in a production performed by a large ensemble about to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's BA Acting course. An entire nation may be having bad dreams at the start of Ben Harrison's production, but in the midst of a criss-crossing array of increasingly troubled lives in motion, hope comes along in the form of John, a park-side anti-war preacher resembling a leftover from Speakers Corner.
As John spars with Ruth, ,his former female university friend turned Tory Prime Minister, a complex web of political expediency, personal loss and the sheer desire to believe in something is mapped out. In a construction that is post party political rather than anti ideology, post church rather than anti religion, the young cast grab hold of its ideas with subtlety and nuance.
Andrew Barrett makes a charismatic John, who is eventually stitched up by Emily-Jane McNeill's Ruth. There is fine support too from Sara Clark Downie as the preternaturally cynical eleven year old daughter of an American diplomat, and from Alexandra Cockrell as the Mary Magdalene-like Holly in a devastating parable for our times.
The Herald, June 8th 2015