A few folk have asked about the play I saw on Monday. Was it, they ask, any cop? And, since it was by former Droo script editor Andrew Cartmel, did it allude to Dr Who?
On the latter, no it didn’t, though Ian Briggs and Graeme Curry were in the audience and joined us for beers after. (We talked a bit of shop: Droo, Big Finish and our other projects. Turns out I’m to be in the same something that Ian is writing for. And Graeme confessed he didn’t know why his Kandyman was made to look like Bertie Bassett.
“Because it was cool,” I said. Perhaps not very helpfully.)
The White Bear Theatre is a smallish, old-man pub with the “theatre” at the back; an intimate little space ideal for this kind of play reading. For this reading of Cartmel’s “Under the Eagle”, the six-member cast sat in a row on the stage and performed their parts where they were sitting. To make things more interesting, they only took their seats on the stage as their individual character entered the play. Before this they’d sat in with the audience, so there was some fun guessing which of the assembled throng were the actors.
They also each shuffled quietly off the stage when they’d finished all their lines. This took my quite by surprise the first time (and even gave me goosebumps!) but helped focus attention on the two remaining characters and the relationships between them.
Otherwise there were no stage tricks: no lighting or music. Cartmel himself welcomed us and told us to switch off mobile phones. So it was just the words on the page and the feeling expressed by the performers.
The new US President, Lenore Rose Lock (Kate Brown, who was fantastic in a Big Finish earlier this year), is dining with the British Prime Minister. The main topic for debate is rendition. The US are moving a terrorist suspect to a place of interrogation, stopping off in the UK to refuel. The Prime Minister has concerns.
Also on the table are a new missile defence system and the teaching of intelligent design in British schools. But as the evening continues other topics crop up: the place of sex and prayer, the balance of the “special relationship”. And just to liven things up, the Prime Minister’s wife has invited a guest to the party. Vi Hooper is a gutsy stand-up comedian who’s just called the PM a “gutless whore”.
For a serious play about “issues”, it’s a lively and often very funny play. The one-liners show that these are all intelligent, able people, quick to think on their feet. I was initially concerned about the cliché of the evangelical Yanks, but Cartmel makes the President and her Chief of Staff engaging, complex people. The politicking between them and their UK counterparts is clever, twisty stuff.
In some ways, the PM’s number 2 (played brilliantly by Jonathan Rigby) reminded me of Lord John Marbury, British Ambassador to the West Wing. Though less posh and silly, he plays a similar roll in undercutting the pomp of the White House. There’s also a similar steely quality that emerges when it’s needed.
I especially liked the way the play kept us guessing, and how the “reversals” of the plot arose naturally from the interactions of character. For all it’s about real issues and events, the characters are less reacting to off-stage happenings as they are, by dint of their being together here, making those off-stage happenings happen.
It’s a strong and engaging play, and the hope is for a run at the White Bear some time around February. I recommend you go along. You can even take your drinks into the theatre with you.