Are you in or out? Theatre of Discontent’s first production, In or Out, is either a love story with an EU referendum play trying to get in… or it’s an EU referendum play with a love story trying to get out. Either way it is two very distinct narratives inter-locked with join-lines so clunky and unsubtle that it is akin to a badly photoshopped picture of a sturgeon with Nigel Farage’s head – with all the clumsy imagery that such an image would suggest.
We are asked to believe that two MPs – old-hand Labour-guy Jim (Stuart Laing) and relatively newby Conservative harridan Annie (Caroline Loncq) were lovers at Cambridge twenty years ago where they debated the important (EU) issues of the day whilst consuming oceans of Talisker. Talisker?
Seriously? At twenty-odd quid a bottle? All the students I knew at Cambridge in the nineties drank cider first (it was cheap), beer second and, moving onto shorts, Vodka was the tipple of choice: if they had any money to chuck around then they made a friend of Mr Bollinger. Drinking copious bottles of Talisker just did not ring true and seemed to be a laboured dramatic device to enable the convenient discovery of a bottle of said whisky under the desk so that the three of them could play out a tribute act to the now defunct Friends United.
The overlong and stodgy opening exposition of the former relationship with sexual tension of the amoeba-lite variety left us hankering for some good old, solid, Pestonesque, in-depth analysis of whether we should Brexit or not. But when the Talisker finally oiled the wheels of political debate the central part of the show was merely a rehearsing of the two sides of the argument which have been incessantly pounding our brains for weeks and re-hearing them here did nothing to alleviate our collective sense of brain-freeze. Economy-versus-immigration-versus- economy and would Talisker be cheaper if we left? The only inspirational moment came when a second waste-paper bin – identical to the one already in view – was conjured magically from the under-desk Talisker hide-out in order for the pair to replicate their favourite university jape of throwing screwed-up paper balls into either bin for each debating point scored. Jim missed every time affording the opportunity for Annie to unleash a string of well-prepared ad libs.
Having exhausted the pros and cons of Brexit and Bremain (their word… yes, I know) we reverted to the love story and the hard-core sexual interplay bit: he undoing his belt, she part-undoing her blouse. He desperate for a quickie, she not wanting a verbatim report in Hansard. He deploying his best seduction technique akin to a bout of doorstep canvassing on a wet Tuesday in Accrington and she reverting to embarrassing one liners that are presumably meant to show how hip and worldly MPs really are: when he says “it’s hard” meaning difficult she says “I can see that”. Ugh.
Loncq struggles pluckily with her own script but might be better served by looking on and “hearing” the words she makes herself speak so that she can react/rewrite accordingly. Laing gets the best he can from the grey, formulaic character he’s been allotted but he’s very much a Tea-room lackey rather than a Strangers Bar rebel.
Director Simon Kunz handles what is a frequently contrived script rather pedestrianly: there is none of the joy and fun that we are told featured in the original relationship. Nobody dances on the desk, there’s no surreptitious joint to replicate student life, there’s no Corbyn dartboard or Cameron photo-shopped Animal Farm poster (think about it). And Jim does not declare “I don’t drink Talisker any more – but here’s a bottle of Jaegermeister I nicked from my kids – let’s do some bombs”. Fun. It’s needed. The EU Referendum is a positively un-fun subject: as too are wrinkly re-runs of ancient love affairs.
In or out? Well fortunately the belt and blouse get done up again as the division bell sounds saving us any more sexual excruciation so the crassly-metaphorical smart money would appear to be Out rather than In. Or – put another way – in the world of Alice in Wonderland EU politics Tweedle-Dummy and Tweedle-Twee don’t quite get laid.
Review by Peter Yates
A sharp, witty satire on sex, sovereignty and shilly-shallying, In or Out is set in an office deep in the House of Commons, where Annie and Jim, MPs on opposite sides of the House, argue about whether and how to jump off the fence, peering into the future while haunted by their shared past.
As the real-life referendum debate degenerates into an ugly brawl, this timely comedy throws ambition, indecision and passion into the ring. Which way will the country go? Where will that leave an ambitious MP after the vote, as the slung mud dries out? Annie is a new Tory MP, fresh into the House after a career at the Bar, while Labour stalwart Jim is an old hand at heated debates in the Members Bar. They argued student politics at university, across the pillow, and now they find themselves at it again in more ways than one. But decisions made now could wreak havoc across Europe as well as their own lives. In or Out is the question, but will Annie give Jim the answers he craves?
Starring Stuart Laing (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time; Peckham, the Soap Opera at the Royal Court; Hundreds & Thousands at the Soho, and as Rob Minter in Eastenders), and Caroline Loncq, (Broken Glass at the Vaudeville; Scorched at the Old Vic Tunnels, and most recently Anna Marshbrook in Vera).
Written by Caroline Loncq and directed by Simon Kunz, In or Out is the first production by Theatre of Discontent, a new company based in East London.
Dates: Monday 13th, Tuesday 14th, Wednesday 15th, Thursday 16th,
& Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd, Thursday 23rd June
The Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane
Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 8EQ
Tickets: £7 in advance from
http://bridewelltheatre.co.uk or £9 on the door.