With the parliamentary Labour party at apparent loggerheads with a huge chunk of its ordinary party members, and a Prime Minister arguably governing without a strong mandate, the growing alienation of the British electorate from their representatives has rarely been in sharper focus. The King’s Players, a long established drama society from King’s College London, have astutely taken this opportunity to examine the frustrating labyrinth that our democracy has become.
An ambitious piece that gets you mulling over how to get out of our political maze
The Surge uses the flavour of multiple formal disciplines to create a satisfying blend. The basic mixer is theatrical scenes, focusing on newly elected MP Jessica Wiles, who is attempting to gather support for a bill in parliament. Unwilling to leave behind her activist roots, she becomes the face of student protests in favour of the bill. For these protests and the passage of time and place, the ensemble utilise physical theatre, providing an alternative and fluid method of driving the plot. Wiles faces obstacles from all sides, and comes to question her power within a system that is designed to work in a very specific way. Spoken word and filmed material supplement this combination, creating an interesting cocktail that asks important questions.
This piece has clearly been well organised and directed by Caitlin Evans. Considerable thought has gone into this form-combining work. In large part, these combinations work. The ensemble is used frequently to build a cacophony of sound that is a wonderful representation of the claustrophobia of a modern life dominated by information and the misinterpretation of that information, particularly by the media, and by extension the population. Both poems provide nice moments of stillness, and their focus, while different, is wide enough to remind the audience that what they are watching is a symptom of something much larger.
Emily Ashbrook’s Wiles cuts an aptly frustrated figure, with Imogen Morrell providing important energy and conviction as the MP’s confidante, though their early scene moves so quickly to characterise them that their relationship is on the precipice of entering the realms of cliché. Will Sullivan’s music is an essential component that gives legitimacy to the physical theatre sections in particular, and creates a thoughtful atmosphere where we are willing to engage with the questions we’re being asked. Is our parliamentary system out of date? Is protest a workable democratic method for being heard? These are central issues that are particularly relevant to the embattled Labour leader, himself a renowned grassroots activist. The Surge’s difficulty is that it fails to provide any sort of answer to any of the questions it poses. On the one hand it is hopeful, representing a worldview where we simply have to tough it out to prevail, but on the other it happily lapses into portraying all MP’s as self-serving, small-minded twits who couldn’t care less, no matter how much we protest. Both of these cannot be true. Stereotyping of various ‘evil’ MP’s is a convenient oversimplification.
Ultimately though, The Surge is an ambitious piece that gets you mulling over how to get out of our political maze. For that alone it gets my vote.