Bruntwood Prize Judge’s Award winning play of 2015
Parliament Square hits hard, but fails to leave a lasting bruise.
Esther Smith is outstanding in her performance as frustrated Kat, a young woman who tears herself away from her loving husband and infant daughter early one morning, taking the train into London to make the ultimate sacrifice in a desperate bid to spark social and political change. Making a stand in parliament square armed with a can of petrol and a lighter, prepared to make an extreme political statement in a selfless act of protest, she is guided and hindered step-by-step by her Inner Voice, played by Lois Chimimba. James Fritz’ text is exploding rhythmically between the two actors throughout the first twenty minutes of the play, and the stage crackles with sharp overlapping dialogue as the audience is sucked into Kat’s nerve-wracking journey to martyrdom.
Unfortunately for Kat, Seraphina Beh as the chirpy young teenager Catherine passes by her unseen, and heroically saves Kat’s life by smothering the flames with her jacket. Smith is searingly authentic as the hospitalised Kat as we watch her crumble under the horror that her sacrifice was for nothing, that she must go on living with the consequences of her failed attempt as her family suffers around her. Jumping from moment to moment of Kat’s waking life in hospital we snatch conversations between Kat and her doctor, mother, husband and physiotherapist. Kelly Hotten satisfies a need for dry humour amidst this dark and intense show as the brazen physiotherapist and work colleague. Damola Adelaja is sincere and moving as Tommy, portraying him as a painfully sweet and supportive husband. Joanne Howarth captures all of the warmth, fear and bluntness of a mother who has watched her daughter survive self-immolation.
Designer Fly Davies’ simplicity of set design combined with intricate and effective lighting casts striking imagery with the use of bold shadows across the stage floor. The audience are driven through the story with constant and ever-changing lighting, creating a sense of urgency which is used dynamically to show the story’s movement through time. This is delicately constructed alongside Jude Christian’s direction of the play, who has nimbly crafted Parliament Square into a potent production through it’s progressive staging, creating powerful visual and visceral imagery.
Through the dribbles of information, the audience is able to piece together much about Kat’s family life and the England she lives in, but we are never satisfied with the knowledge of what she was protesting and why. As a theatrical device this is competent attempt at making Parliament Square’s audience hungry for more, but leaves its listeners a little out of sync with the motives behind the piece. By the end, we feel the tension orchestrated through the rhythmic scene sequences begin to stagnate, which, combined with the cliche resolution to the play, brings us to a dull end. Parliament Square hits hard, but fails to leave a lasting bruise.