Penny Flood says Howard Brenton's play at the Finborough is a parable for our times
This is a terrific revival of Howard Brenton's great play: a parable of the futility of anger if it’s not properly channelled, and the havoc that can be wreaked when a obsession becomes a passion to the exclusion of everything else, while asking the question how people make themselves heard when they when they feel nobody's listening. Sound familiar? It was written in 1973 but it could be now.
It' the story of the deeply committed, left-wing Jed (who channels Trotsky's ghost when he feels mortals don't understand him) and his transformation from peaceful protester to violent activist. At the start, he and his followers, break into a filthy flat from where they intend to highlight the plight of the homeless and perhaps bring down imperialism while they're at it. They're a motley crew: there’s his pregnant young wife Mary; not-quite-so-committed but still angry Will and Cliff; plus Veronica, a BBC researcher who has taken two weeks holiday to join them as she’s sure that’s all the time they need to do whatever it is they plan to do.
Of course what these young people are doing is ridiculous,
but Brenton never holds them up as figures of fun, they've got dreams which Will observes are fragile, delicate and precious. Jed is not to be mocked, he may be a flawed and confused, but he's a human being who deserves a hearing. His pent up rage is expressed beautifully in an almost poetic monologue at the end of the first act.
It’s very political, Brenton is a left wing political writer and there's plenty of political analysis from both sides of the political spectrum. The right get their hearing while a dying Tory grandee, obsessed with his own obituary, is punted along a river by his younger protégée. It's light years from the squat, but the topics they so airily dismiss, including political corruption, are the things that affect the young people.
To be fair, it's not dragged down by politics. There are light hearted moments with some genuinely funny bits, but they eventually get overrun by tragedy and the accompanying horror, shock and heartbreak.
There's a lot going on here and at one point it seems to drift, but everything is relevant and it all comes together in one devastating, bungled act of stupidity. Cliff sums it up when he says: "What I can't forgive you for Jed, is the waste."
Brenton doesn't patronise his audiences with a comfortable ending, nor does he try to suggest there are any easy answers, because aren't any. It's just the way things are, as explained in this beautifully told, desperately sad story of one principled young man with something to say when nobody's listening.
Joel Gillman is gives a terrific performance as the tortured Jed with great support from Tim Faulkner as the young Tory MP and Hayward B Morse as his expiring companion.
Magnificence continues at the Finborough Theatre till Saturday 19 November, Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm, with Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3pm. Tickets cost £16, £14 concessions.
The play is accompanied by post-show discussions on two following Wednesdays:
Wednesday, 9 November
Discussion with playwright Howard Brenton and Max Stafford-Clark (director of the original production of Magnificence at the Royal Court Theatre in 1973)
Wednesday, 16 November
Discussion with playwright Howard Brenton and director Josh Roche.
Book tickets online or call the 24 hour ticket office on 0844 847 1652.
September 8, 2016