Birth of a Nation

This is not the Birth of a Nation that revolutionised filmmaking by mythologising the Ku Klux Klan over the most gruelling three hours every film student will have to spend. This is not the Birth of a Nation that drew attention at Sundance this year, but couldn’t draw an audience at the box office.

House himself delivers an entertaining performance, with a broad stance and booming voice

This is Birth of a Nation: an issue play stitched together with a satirical comedy like a theatrical Frankenstein’s monster. On the left side of the stage sits a couch, representing the home where Conservative MP Joe (Madhav Vasantha) grapples with his family over the NHS, homelessness and post-Brexit Britain. And on the right sits a table and two office chairs. This is Westminster, where Joe attempts to keep up with the aggressive rhetoric and antics of his colleagues within the party.

Frankenstein puts it like this: “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” The human drama happening on the left is undercut by the absurdity happening on the right (pun intended), while the comedy is dragged down by the serious, relevant consequences. Vasantha, wandering back and forth, is almost doomed to fail, as he is tasked with being both the straight man around which the comedy revolves and the centerpiece of a family which is slowly collapsing under its own weight.

The headline, then, is unexciting: “Developing piece still needs development”. Birth of a Nation can’t succeed stuck between two worlds, so playwright David House is left with the difficult task of killing one child to save the other. I hope that the comedy is what’s expanded. Every year sees half a dozen dramas responding to the hot topic of the moment, but the special brand of British political satire is one of the best things about this country. House’s style blends the cynicism central to The Thick of It with Python-esque characters, and there is potential in that.

That side already has the play’s best performances. House himself delivers an entertaining performance, with a broad stance and booming voice that feels like man-spreading over the entire theatre. He’s joined by Kate O’Rourke, who is wound so tight that one expects to see a spring pop loose.

Complications can arise during the creative process. Your creation may kill your wife on your wedding day. Birth of a Nation’s growing pains are comparatively inoffensive. Though I can’t recommend this iteration of the play, I will be keeping an eye on its continued development.

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The Blurb

We’re out of the EU! The Labour party is crumbling from within! The NHS moves steadily closer to privatisation and the Tory government has a shiny new PM! Life is great. Isn’t it?

Joe is a fresh faced, hot shot Conservative MP. Internationally aware and sympathetic to the working classes but a realist in a time of social and political upheaval. As Britain finds itself in uncertain turmoil and Labour bicker amongst themselves, the Tories aim to look strong and make Joe an international superstar of right wing politics, the face on the frontline of a new Conservative party. But are Joe’s left-wing leanings at odds with what the party wants from him?

Birth of a Nation is a political comedy, that takes a satirical swipe at the failings of a Tory government riddled with NHS pains, Boris Johnson and Brexit.