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The Empire Has Fallen at The White Bear Theatre

The Empire Has FallenThe broader themes in The Empire Has Fallen have been explored before, but in a different (and significantly less comical) context. Some years ago, a reality television show was made about a local community who, like many people, had reasons to complain about the manner in which their borough council was (mis)managing things. The production company had somehow arranged for any and all council services to be suspended from one particular street. They then had to sort out their own refuse collections, street cleansing services, transport for those eligible, and so on. Their ‘council’ meetings were very fraught, even if they made for good television, as the appointed ‘leaders’ had comparatively little experience than the town hall officials did with regards to everything a council does within tight budgetary constraints. Cut a long story short: when the experiment came to an end, residents were out in force to cheer the arrival of the borough council’s refuse collection lorry.

The stakes are significantly higher in this production, although even here, someone advocates a reversal of the switch to fortnightly bin collections, asserting a case for weekly collections instead. But the bigger story is that a totalitarian regime has toppled at the hands of a merciless resistance, which has not only executed The Emperor but everyone in the Government, plus all of The Emperor’s staff. Civil servants, it appears, have been spared. Only one palace employee, Barnabas Hepplestone (David Fenne) remains – quite how he survived the massacre is only partly explained – and he, by default, becomes the new regime’s spokesman, smiling and earnest.

Ted (Elliot Burton) and Pat (Lottie Davies), meanwhile, are a little like the soldiers still at their posts just after the end of a war has been declared, because it takes a few minutes for the news to cascade down to everyone. Torturers in the Ministry of Justice, their instruments of choice called to mind the ‘red room of pain’ in the ‘Fifty Shades’ film series. Over the course of the show, the new ‘interim president’, Alice Grumm (Emily Toomey) eventually really does look like an overworked politician under an exorbitant amount of stress. It’s an extraordinary sight.

Without giving too much away, the new leadership has, in effect, thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. The consequences are, as you can imagine, dark – they are also mildly amusing, though it is a sad indictment on today’s world that the sort of bizarre ideas being propounded in this production, put forward to make a theatre audience laugh, are ultimately not that far removed from what certain political leaders (no names) themselves impose (or at least try to impose). Perhaps that is why a show like this, at a time like this, isn’t as hilarious as it would have been, say, a decade ago. Put simply, it seems to be more true than funny.

That, of course, is not the fault of the show’s cast or its creatives. There’s plenty to ponder on, including the role of a monarchy within a fledgling democracy beset with problems. Such has been the subjugation of the population at large that even literacy is scarce, for instance. Lady Arina (Hebe Renard) continues to assert a claim to a throne that has supposedly been abolished; having turned against her own father, The Emperor, to support the revolution, she is popular amongst citizens. For all the show’s silliness, it takes some searching to find deeper meanings to the proceedings, but they are there – a form of ‘Stockholm syndrome’ has crept into elements of this society, for instance, and a conversation between Arina and Grumm brings to light the old adage that with great power comes great responsibility.

The show is steadily paced, which is highly commendable, given the tendency of one-act plays to pack too much in. This is a good effort for a debut play, and I suspect the best writing is still yet to come for actor/playwright David Fenne. A lively and facetious production.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Empire has fallen. The Rebels have won. The evil of the Emperor is defeated… errrm now what? Interim President Grumm is trying her hardest to get things running again, but stripping out years of oppression, subjugation, and toilet surveillance is easier said than done.

The populace is illiterate and unmotivated, everyone useful (including the cleaners) has been executed, and they have to pay people in gift cards because the treasury is a train-wreck. But never fear, for overeager Minister of Apologies, Barnabas Hepplestone, is around to help with the important things … like a new state colour scheme.

Will the world adjust to these new-fangled concepts of “Democracy” and “Free Will”? Or will things fall apart without the boot of the Empire in the face of the masses? Has anyone actually thought this through?

Umbra Theatre is making its London debut with The Empire Has Fallen, a dark, absurdist comedy where The Thick of It meets The Hunger Games.

Creative Team
written by David Fenne
directed by Mike Powell

The Empire Has Fallen
by David Fenne
22nd January 2019


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