Review of The Community at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre

The CommunityA superfluous and unnecessarily pretentious pre-show goes on as the audience continues to file in for The Community. I am relieved to report it is onwards and upwards from there. The Great Leader (Charlotte Bloomsbury) launches into a speech, which attempts to be Churchillian but ends up melodramatic: she does, at least, have the foresight to make ruthless adjustments to her set piece before it is delivered at The Community’s school leaving event.

A teeny weeny bit of background, then. The Community doesn’t seem to be imaginative enough to call itself anything other than The Community. ‘The’ is very much appropriate, at least as far as they (that is, the members of The Community) are concerned. They are the only ones left after the end of the world as it was known has happened. It brings to mind ‘An Apocalypse To Remember’, an episode of the animated television comedy American Dad, in which the main family breadwinner, who works for the CIA, mistakes a nuclear war drill for an actual international incident, with terrible but hilarious consequences.

In The Community, which must exist entirely below ground because there is, or so The Community has been led to believe, too much radiation on the Earth’s surface, the Great Leader’s rhetoric is, in short, the Third Reich resurrected. It’s her way or the highway. Rules exist but are regularly overridden by the Leader: a complete failure to lead by example wins her few friends amongst what she considers to be her people. There are, if one were to drill down deep enough, things not fully explained in the narrative, such as how exactly did anyone at all survive the nuclear war, or Armageddon, or whatever it was? Surely by definition ‘the end of the world’ should mean precisely that? Such explorations would, I realise, both lengthen the play considerably. I still say it is worth looking into as a point for future development.

Too many of the jobs within The Community are menial. Paul, sporting a woolly hat (there was no programme or cast list available at the performance I attended, and so it is with regret some of the performers must, therefore, go uncredited) is joined by Jim (Ross Virgo), for a sit-down security job. The delivery of their dialogue, deadpan in parts and palpably thoughtful in others, is worth the price of a ticket alone. A moral dilemma is admirably dealt with too.

The black-box set fits the storyline like a glove, and the absurdity and preposterousness of The Community’s many quirks and regulations are a persistent source of hilarity. It’s not always as dark as it could be, however. This is not a universally negative point – the Leader could be more stereotypically evil (think, for instance, Mr Burns in The Simpsons or even Miss Hannigan in Annie).

The more nuanced manner of this Leader puts her in a similar league to a political leader in the liberal democracies of the modern world, with sophisticated plotting, scheming and spin going on. But when a government official relents from meting out the punishment required for a particular misdemeanour, part of me wished he had proceeded with dispensing the Leader’s definition of justice.

That said, whether playing the aforementioned official, or Gerry, a debate moderator whose shorthand skills are no match for the passionate Edith (consistently referred to as the Chair of the Panel for the Preservation of Ethics), or Thomas, a teacher, William Sebag-Montefiore puts in a stand-out performance. Often bombastic and with considerable aplomb, he’s conspicuous by his absence when off-stage, and portrays the emotions of his characters with clarity and conviction.

With the world now in possession of more than enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the entire human race, the harrowing and oppressive environment of The Community is more of a possibility than ever before. It’s like being in a reality television show but with no option to tell the broadcaster to “get me out of here”. The animated way in which this story is told is welcoming. An amusing and thought-provoking production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Welcome to the Community, a vast underground society populated by the last one thousand humans on earth. The surface has been reduced to an irradiated wasteland and these poor souls are confined to a harsh underground life in order to escape it. It is a brutal and unforgiving place where freedom of thought has been eradicated, mandatory euthanasia is a normal part of life and birthday cakes are strictly prohibited. In spite of these challenges humanity endures, clinging to the faded hope that one day they may see the surface of the world that their ancestors were forced to abandon.

Gaël van den Bossche’s new dark comedy explores the lives and struggles of the people who live in this bleak state. How much must we sacrifice in the name of survival and when does it stop being worth it? How can we continue in the face of the meaninglessness and absurdity of our existence? Does thinking about it only make it worse?

LISTING INFORMATION
Lion and Unicorn, 42-44 Gaisford Street, Kentish Town, NW5 2ED
Tues 1st – Sat 5th August 2017

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