The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 18th July, 2012
This impressive show from the Young Rep Company is an entertaining and thought-provoking hour performed by an energetic and enthusiastic cast of, well, not quite, thousands, but there does seem to be a lot of them.
The show sets out its stall with the opening choral number: “Elections, Conservatives, Elections, Liberal Democrats, Electing posh prats.”
Inspired by the real-life incident when a nine-year-old wrote to the PM about the closure of libraries, only to get fobbed off by some letter-opener, Jennifer Tuckett’s enjoyable script has a group of frustrated and concerned teenagers snatch the PM and force him to sit in their den with a pillowcase on his head – a welcome device that frees the actor from trying to look like the brute and renders him silent throughout his captivity. Led by narrator Lucy (Hannah Kelly) the kids reveal their individual concerns and the impact this arrogant and short-sighted government has had and will have on their young lives. It’s not just the threats to the library service. There’s the ending of the EMA, lack of opportunity for them and their parents forcing them out of applying for university places… These points emerge between the exuberant rendition of songs old and new. There’s a version of the Katy Perry number, here played quite wistfully as If I Were Prime Minister and there’s a constant refrain of “Elections, elections, it’s all in our control” as a reminder to us all – all though at times it seems bitterly ironic.
The simplistic fantasy –the PM is easily snatched and so, later when he proves unsurprisingly useless, is the Queen, also pillowcased – addresses issues complex and straightforward. Why isn’t Politics taught in schools? Lack of political knowledge among the young does not equate to lack of concern.
When Her Majesty proves powerless, the kid kidnappers are visited by Justin Bieber because, they wink satirically, a celebrity will be able to sort things out. Well, well, Justin Bieber as a force for good! A neat portrayal by Thomas Goodall makes the point that there are role models out there for the young, although what actual influence they wield in the corridors of power is dubious at best.
News reports reveal that the Police are closing in – but before long, they give up and new figureheads are put in place. Nick Clegg is made PM – eliciting the biggest groan of the night.
Among the large cast, several of the performers stand out. James (Connor Doyle) carries most of the singing, and performs with presence and assurance. Franklyn O’Connor is good fun as Michael, desperate to have a family; and Grace Barrington has her moments as Sarah – lovely guitar playing too. The ensemble works smoothly and of course, some have more affinity for the stage than others, but it is pleasing to see them all working so well together and keeping the energy levels high. I can’t mention all the supporting players because there wasn’t time to catch all of their names, but I did notice Oscar Turner (as Sean and a corgi) and Connor Jones (as Francisco and second corgi). The whole thing is held together by Hannah Kelly as narrator and lead activist Lucy, a confident and nuanced performance, played with heart and humour.
The piece works as a revue and as a bit of agit-prop lite, urging the young (and everyone else) to become involved by writing letters, staging protests. I (and I left my youth behind – I miss him) found it quite empowering. They had me at “electing posh prats.”
The real-life ham-faced chancer should be tied up and made to watch this piece, although I fear that would be a treat rather than a punishment. And kidnapping’s too good for him! Bit of politics, my name’s not Ben Elton, goodnight.