Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 1 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: James Graham
Director: Alex Bryant-Smith
Cast: Benjamin Balte, Will Bartolo, Sonya Kerr, Nicholas Papademetriou, Kelly Robinson, Davey Seagle, Madeleine Withington
Images by Bob Seary
John Barker, Hilary Creek, Jim Greenfield and Anna Mendelssohn were sentenced to ten years’ jail for carrying out a series of bombings in London, in the early 70’s. They were home-grown terrorists, university degree holders with a self-righteous streak that had clearly gone out of control. Playwright James Graham completed The Angry Brigade in 2014, at a time when terrorism is routinely presented as a phenomenon akin to foreign invasion, used by politicians and the media to capitalise on our penchant for racial prejudice.
The play demonstrates that it is far more likely to be the disenfranchised within our communities who are drawn to such extremities, that the root of these problems are well within our own purview, and much less likely to emanate from an outside enemy that can only be controlled with further violence. The way our patriarchal capitalistic societies are currently structured, necessitates that a portion of us must face disadvantage, in order that all our hierarchical systems can function. We observe the anarchic activity of The Angry Brigade with a degree of empathy, and although unlikely to agree with their radical methods, their grievances about the Western world, so wonderfully articulated by Graham, are certainly persuasive.
A wonderful passion is introduced by director Alex Bryant-Smith, who assembles a production replete with humour as well as a sense of political urgency. Set design by Sallyanne Facer manufactures distinct spaces for the two acts, each of them evocative and efficient. Lights by Michael Schell add dramatic flourish to the staging, and Glenn Braithwaithe’s work on sound ensures tension is appropriately calibrated from one scene to another.
Strong performances by a well rehearsed team keep us fascinated and invested in this true crime story, where meaningful breaking of rules lead to indefensible ethical violations. Davey Seagle leaves a remarkable impression with his actorly intensity for the dual roles of Smith and John, brought to life with wit and vigour. Madeleine Withington brings emotional authenticity to the pivotal part of Anna, deftly delivering a narrative climax that packs a punch. Benjamin Balte and Sonya Kerr play the remaining transgressors, both able to generate moments of brilliance that have us captivated. A range of smaller roles are shared by Will Bartolo, Nicholas Papademetriou and Kelly Robinson, all accomplished with admirable style and imagination.
Like many things that are dangerous, anarchy can be useful in small doses. It is undeniable that some of what has been institutionalised, would be better off demolished, and in these instances, a hint of nihilistic chaos could help instigate change. Revolutions occur because they are necessary but it is unimaginable that shifts in power can ever happen without conflict and disorder, although violence should always be regarded as preventable. Anarchy can be looked upon as a transitory concept, a methodology for those who have nothing to lose, to rise up and demand for improved conditions, even when they do not have all the answers close at hand.