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A View From Islington North at the Arts Theatre – Review

A View from Islington North - Sarah Alexander, Ann Mitchell, Steve John Shepherd, Kathryn O'Reilly, Joseph Prowen, Bruce Alexander, Jane Wymark
A View from Islington North – Sarah Alexander, Ann Mitchell, Steve John Shepherd, Kathryn O’Reilly, Joseph Prowen, Bruce Alexander, Jane Wymark – Photo credit Stephen Pover

Max Stafford-Clark and production company Out of Joint have curated an engaging evening of political satire at the Arts Theatre playing until 2nd July. In A View From Islington North Stafford-Clark has brought together three previously performed shorts with two new slightly longer pieces of political writing. The evening runs at 1 hour and 45 minutes (including a 20 minute interval) so the ‘view’ from Islington North is more like a series of snapshots.

The evening begins with Mark Ravenhill’s ‘The Mother’, a play first performed in 2007. However it has lost none of its power and impact. Sarah Alexander plays Hayley Morrison, a mother who answers the door to two soldiers (Joseph Prowen and Jane Wymark) who have come to deliver tragic yet sadly predictable news. Morrison refuses to allow the soldiers to deliver the words they’ve come to deliver and instead launches an obscene, inarticulate diatribe that soon turns into violence. Alexander’s depiction of a grieving Morrison makes for uncomfortable viewing. A downtrodden shell of a woman whose daily life is marked out by what is on daytime TV, Alexander gives a strong and memorable performance.

‘Tickets are now on Sale’ by Caryl Churchill is a sharp, short two hander with Sarah Alexander and Steve John Shepherd. An insignificant chat on a summer’s day is repeated several times over; each time with corporate slogans and cliches steadily replacing crucial words of the exchange resulting in a powerful comment on the insidious reach of the corporate sponsorship of the arts.

‘The Accidental Leader’ is a new play by Alistair Beaton which envisages an attempted coup of a disliked leader of the Labour party (where do these playwrights get their ideas?) It features a spiky character, Nina (again played convincingly by the versatile Sarah Alexander) who is part of the Impetus movement, a thinly veiled version of Momentum, the pro Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour party. The attempted coup by centrist Jim (Bruce Alexander) fails and his allies Eleanor and Ollie (Jane Wymark and Joseph Prowen) quickly abandon him. The play would have been more dangerous and more successful if, rather than hinting, it had instead imagined real key players from the parliamentary Labour party plotting a coup against Corbyn. Although an enjoyable enough sketch, it felt too tame and a bit obvious.

‘Ayn Rand Takes a Stand’ by David Hare is deliciously surreal. The late Russian born American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand is summoned for a meeting with a nervy be-suited man named Gideon (as the play progresses we realise Gideon is of course, George Osborne). In a sterile, Bond villain -style room Ayn and Gideon talk of oranges and the free market before the Home Secretary Theresa May arrives (Jane Wymark impresses with an uncanny portrayal).

Costume designer Brigid Guy has faithfully recreated May’s trademark style – even down to her leopard print heels. Ann Mitchell is magisterial as acerbic and forceful Ayn. She stumps the Home Secretary with the question “How can you have a free market without free movement of labour?” Hare’s short is the stand-out piece of the evening.

The final play of the night is ‘How to Get Ahead in Politics’ by Stella Feehily, an insight into the murky world of the whips office. The alcoholic MP played by Steve John Shepherd is the fall guy for a scandal involving another member of parliament and must now face de-selection. Bruce Alexander captures brilliantly the Machiavellian scheming and plotting of the chief whip. The evening concludes with a company rendition of ‘No, Buddy, No’ by Billy Bragg – it is well-sung and harmonised and surprisingly touching.

A View from Islington North is well directed and well curated. The plays complement each other extremely well. Economic yet effective set design is provided by Tim Shortall and the set changes (sometimes quite dramatically) with each play. The result is a polished production, with excellent performances by an energetic and committed cast – a typical Out of Joint success story.

4 stars

Review by Laura-Jane Foley

“Politics has become too serious a matter to be left to politicians” TS Eliot

Acclaimed director Max Stafford-Clark teams up with some of our most celebrated playwrights for an evening of political satire.

Alistair Beaton and Stella Feehily make merry with the machinations behind the closed doors of our major political parties. David Hare attacks the cult of the free market, through a visitation from its chief priestess.

Mark Ravenhill eyes the cost of our military adventures as a soldier’s mother does all she can to avoid hearing the news she dreads. And Caryl Churchill imagines a world where even language is sponsored.

Funny, angry, and playful, A View from Islington North is smart entertainment for the head and heart.

A View From Islington North
Arts Theatre
6-7 Great Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JB

Age Restrictions: Recommend for 14+, includes swearing.
Show Opened: 18th May 2016
Booking Until: 2nd July 2016

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