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Pressure Points by Jack Stanley at the White Bear Theatre

Pressure Points - Photography by James Heatlie
Pressure Points – Photography by James Heatlie

I do wish this show had been a little riskier, but then again, the point it seems to make is that the kind of ideology formulated between the likes of Fran (Beth Mullen) and Tara (Lowenna Melrose) at university, doesn’t necessarily translate well beyond campus life. I once came across a socialist who told me that after he graduated and started working, he quickly realised that there needed to be some sort of hierarchy in order for an organisation to function well. Perhaps Fran and Tara came to a similar conclusion, though the narrative doesn’t extend that far.

Dissatisfied with Young Labour, the pair set out to start their own movement. It’s a promising start, with three hundred students signing up to join their society, a significant number of which turn out for the first society meeting. But, as Alicia (Chloe Astleford) points out, Tara doesn’t exactly gain much in the way of audience engagement during an hour long talk which wasn’t so much a presentation as a rant. Further, the meeting ends without any policies or principles agreed on, and as the weekly meetings continue, the socialist society has evolved into the debating society.

Enter Jim and Greg (both Ryan Woodcock, who takes on four other named roles during the play too), who are at cross-purposes, to the point where a heated discussion turns into something rather unpleasant. But the play does not have a storyline where things are tickety-boo prior to a critical incident: here, things are going pear-shaped from the off. Still, the critical incident itself is a little predictable, even if it raises an important point. Young male suicides are, with justification, an increasing concern, and the play does well to explore some of the issues surrounding one of the society’s members being taken by their own hand.

Because of this, some of the consequent discussions about the direction the society should take come across as superfluous, relatively speaking, however much the leaders assert they continue their work ‘for him’ (the person no longer with them). Eventually, Fran is deserted by Alicia, then by Tara – the former is upset over withheld information, the latter simply decides she does not wish to speak with Fran for a while. It’s a bit like the split-up of a band: being in each other’s faces all the time for a prolonged period takes its toll. Admirably, the future of the society itself is left open-ended, and there are enough imponderables for a sequel play.

Rather like the society, the production starts to lose its way, and it takes a criminal offence committed by one of its members before focus is restored. The scene changes are indicated by sudden, and sometimes jarring, changes in stage lighting. The set is sparse, with the production choosing to rely heavily on the script to deliver. The time and place of each scene is not always immediately evident. It is pleasing and refreshing that this contemporary play is happy with both longer scenes and a plot told in chronological order, without so much as a flashback. One might even say it has, to borrow the name of a left-wing movement, momentum.

All things considered, there’s lots to observe in this single-act play, where what is not spoken speaks as loudly as the dialogue itself. An interesting look at the world of student politics, this show demonstrates how much more active it is today than it was just a generation ago.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Politics. Power. Protest. Some groups really put you under pressure.
Fran and Tara. Two students who are properly into their politics. It’s their passion. But it’s sort of hard to pursue that passion when the political societies at university are too focussed on in-fighting.
So they’ve got an idea. It’s a good one. They’re going to start their own society. Their own movement. And you know what, it does pretty well to start. But the more influence they get on campus, the harder they find it to stick to their original principles.
They might not be in Westminster, but they soon discover that university politics can be just as vicious.
Set against the shifting political backdrop of the 2010s, Pressure Points is a play exploring youth activism and whether or not the political ideals we have when we’re young can work in the real world.

Pressure Points
Tuesday 13 – Saturday 18 November 2018
White Bear Theatre
138 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4DJ

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