A View From Islington North Review

Arts Theatre 26 May – 2 July.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

This evening of political satire has its moments, but with 5 pieces by 5 different writers, the quality is variable.

The show begins with The Mother by Mark Ravenhill. Written in 2007, the piece has lost none of its power as we watch two hapless soldiers trying to inform a woman of the death of her son. Sarah Alexander is heartbreaking as the mother who launches into hysterical foul mouthed rants and tries every diversionary tactic she can to avoid hearing their words. As great as this is, this is the part of the production that, for me, doesn’t fit in. Yes, it brings home that real lives are lost because of political gamesmanship, but the final moments of dramatic and pure grief are immediately pushed aside and dismissed as the next, lighter, item begins – just like TV news I suppose.

Tickets Are Now On Sale by Caryl Churchill is a two-hander with a middle class jolly couple having a chat, which repeats with corporate slogans, soundbites and jargon replacing normal speech. A dig at corporate sponsorship, but ends up just feeling like filler as the set is changed.

The Accidental Leader by Alistair Beaton, is where the belly laughs begin. Bruce Alexander’s backbencher is in a pub quietly pulling strings and orchestrating a mass resignation of MPs in protest at their leader, who, to the party’s horror, appears to have principles and cares about more than just winning the next election. No names are used; they don’t need to be. This is what people imagine is going on in the Labour party, and the public’s opinions about MP’s motives and the influence of the press on their decisions are played with cleverly. The writing is good, but unfortunately, after The Thick Of It and Yes Minister, it needs to be brilliant to make an impact, and this isn’t quite in that league.

The standout play is Ayn Rand Takes A Stand by David Hare, with the wit and intelligence you would expect from his work. Ann Mitchell steals the show with her wonderfully languid, weird performance as Ayn Rand. At first, you’ll have no clue what is going on in this surreal white room. A Russian woman is regaling an uncomfortable looking man called Gideon with her views on selling oranges. Eventually it becomes clear that the man is George Osborne (Steve John Shepherd – managing to make Osborne seem human) and their talk turns to free market, free will and free speech. Enter Theresa May (Jane Wymark – spot on) and a gloriously absurd circular argument about free speech and May’s championing of it, as long as it doesn’t threaten “British values” begins. Rand then defends the need for immigration and free movement of labour from a purely capitalist viewpoint, but with wonderful emotion and eloquence. How Wymark reacts to all of this is brilliant.

How To Get Ahead In Politics by Stella Feehily suffers from following such a wonderful play. It’s not bad, dealing with a chief whip managing claims of sexual harassment against candidates, his devious solutions and the hypocrisy and double standards of political life, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Again, Malcolm Tucker and Sir Humphrey Appleby cast long shadows.

The show ends with a fantastic song by Billy Bragg, No Buddy, No sung competently by the cast.

Directed by Max Stafford-Clark, A View From Islington North is an entertaining evening of satire, and worth going just to see Ann Mitchell ‘s amazing Ayn Rand.