The best allegories can stand on their own two feet. You can read Animal Farm without much knowledge of the Russian Revolution and still learn a great deal about power, terror and totalitarianism. I’m With the Band, a new play by Tim Price, suffers from having little life of its own - you’re forced instead to watch a set of clever referents.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all represented as constituent members of a band called The Union. The action begins with the revelation that the band is in financial trouble and Scotland promptly leaves. The play then explores the repercussions of an independent Scotland. Most commendable about this production is the way in which it examines the relationships between all four countries; it made me realise how little of a look-in Wales and Northern Ireland have had in the media coverage so far.
That said, the course of events is rather predictable once it’s been established that Price is anti-independence. Scotland turns to new technology but needs the assistance of England to do so, Ireland turns in on itself and starts up relations with the Republic, so the Union becomes unbalanced. Wales tries to learn the electric guitar but is a poor replacement for Scotland and eventually England attempts to find a ‘new sound’ in desperation. It all feels rather more like innuendo than allegory, as the audience is supposed to ‘get’ what Price really means, rather than being allowed to watch and learn from the action as it stands. Very little of what Price has come up with is particularly insightful or challenging and the style quickly becomes wearing.
This is all a great shame, because the blend between music and performance is adeptly managed by director Hamish Pirie, who makes the most of this hybrid piece. It can’t, however, make up for a rather unsatisfying theatrical experience.