The latest production from Windmill Young Actors attempts to explore the spirit of revolution and a multitude of ambitious ideas with varying degrees of success. Sadly, it struggles with tonal inconsistency and creating a unified vision for the performance.
The performance never seems to be comfortable with its subject matter
The stage is bare except for an impressive and exquisitely crafted replica of Lissitzy’s Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge that looms overhead. A young Bolshevik sprints on stage waving a red flag as workers appear around the audience to rage about Tsarist Russia. Lenin himself (Jamie Johnson) then emerges to mount his soapbox and declare the revolution. It is at this point that you may recheck your ticket to make sure you haven’t just arrived at the next Communist Workers International. It is quite an overwhelming opening with action occurring both on stage and around the audience. The audio however all comes from one direction and a lot of people were searching around to see who was speaking as it rapidly changes. The pattern of good ideas with clumsy execution continues throughout. Lines are fumbled, entrances are miscued and microphone levels veer from whispers to screams.
We travel across time, usually with Lenin, to visit socialist figures in history and most significantly a homeless teenager in modern Britain (Jemima Adams-Kirkham). The play moves between socialist realism, interpretative dance and personal stories from members of the cast about their own revolutions. It can however be difficult to line up a personal story of someone being bullied next to the brutal execution of Rosa Luxemburg. I’m not entirely sure how to react as the play goes from Soviet speeches and rage about Grenfell tower to Stalin being portrayed with a comedy moustache on a stick and a Benny Hill police chase scene. The performance never seems to be comfortable with its subject matter.
There are some great ideas to be found in About a Revolution. When it refrains from comedy to show the impact of feminism or read speeches from those who lost family in Grenfell tower it has real power. However, for every success there are difficult moments such as an attempt at audience participation that the actors did not seem comfortable performing. They ask what makes people angry and why they haven’t done anything. When people shout back their answers, the responses were impro comedy or “yeah… fair enough”. Bouncing back and forth between so many styles and different ideas means it all feels a bit paper thin and the ones that work are overshadowed by the ones that don’t.
While it is good to see young actors perform such difficult material, this was not executed with the delicacy that the subject matter requires.