The best place to see if a play is any good is by performing it, receiving feedback and refining it until it is perfect. Dave House has done just that with his show Birth of a Nation which started out as a short at an Actor Awareness scratch night and has now progressed to a ‘work in progress’ being shown for one night at Balham’s Theatre N16
The story concerns a naive Tory MP by the name of Joe who is about as far from the traditional image of a conservative politician as you can get. He is of Pakistani descent and has got to his current position by starting off building his own business. Helping him, or possibly exploiting his uniqueness in the very traditional party, are two other MPs, Tony and Kelly. There is a fascinating dynamic between Madhav Vasantha, David House and Kate O’Rourke the three actors playing the politicians which could easily have descended into a pastiche of the programme “The Thick of It”. Luckily writer/director Dave House avoids this and so the banter between them works very well. Especially in Tony’s case when, post the EU referendum, he considers standing for PM only to have Kelly stop him in his tracks in superb machiavellian style. The two more experienced MPs move Joe from different causes where they feel good publicity is needed to humanise the government but totally ignore him when he talks about causes he actually believes in. Interestingly, there was a chap in the audience who worked in the political team at a major broadcaster and was saying afterwards how realistic the portrayal of Westminster life was written and acted.
Joe’s political career causes problems in his home life where Martha, Joe’s wife and a successful lawyer in her right, and his daughter Manda, a university student, find themselves at odds with Joe’s politics, especially when he gets involved in trying to save the ‘Remain’ campaign as it falters near Polling Day. Joe’s home life is certainly complicated but again is played very well by the actors concerned, Lois Temel and Hanna Tarrington as Martha and Manda respectively. Lois in particular was a fascinating character as she beautifully articulated the thoughts of people who voted for Brexit in a way that, whilst not 100% convincing to those that didn’t vote that way, at least made sense, unlike Hanna’s great portrayal of the middle class girl rebelling against her parents and mouthing political slogans. One of the best moments of the home scenes was when Manda came out Joe as a lesbian – with an Italian girlfriend Edi (Ida Di Terlizzi). Once again, the scene could have been over the top but was downplayed as a simple, normal conversation. Really good to see the subject being handled so well.
After the performance, the cast stayed onstage to hold a Q&A session with the packed out audience and get feedback on the show. Most of it was very positive and I agreed with certain aspects, particularly how well balanced the writing was politically. I was expecting a very left leaning play. In fact all different points of view were put across, though definitely with a left-wing slant, particularly evident in the comments delivered in true Tory fashion about Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon. In my opinion, the only minor alterations that could be done would be to flesh out Manda and Edi and give some more background to them. I was also a bit confused at first as to who Tony and Kelly were, whether they were fellow politicians or special advisors or from Conservative Central Office so it would be good if their respective positions could be identified a bit earlier.
Birth of a Nation may be a work in progress – and for that reason I’m not using the star rating system in this review – but from what I saw and the reaction of the audience it’s pretty much there and ready to be taken on the road. Even though it is very much about political events now, with the whole Brexit thing still rumbling along, I can see a nice transfer to Edinburgh on the cards next year.
By John Mortis
We’re out of the EU! The Labour party is crumbling from within! The NHS moves steadily closer to privatisation and the Tory government has a completely fairly elected new PM! Life is great. Isn’t it?
Birth of a Nation is a work in progress play that takes a satirical look at the failings of a Tory government riddled with NHS pains, Boris Johnson and Brexit.
Joe is a fresh faced, hot shot Conservative MP. Internationally aware and sympathetic to the working classes but a realist in a time of social and political upheaval. As Britain finds itself in uncertain turmoil and the members of the Labour party bicker amongst themselves, the Conservatives aim to look strong and they aim to make Joe an international superstar of right wing politics, the face on the frontline of a new Conservative party. But are Joe’s left-wing leanings at odds with what the party wants from him?
Birth of a Nation comes from writer and actor David House, who previously co-wrote and stared in the Edinburgh Fringe hit show Jeremy Kyle Does Shakespeare. Birth of Nation began as a 15-minute play that previewed at the Actor Awareness Health Night at Theatre N16 in May. Following audience acclaim, David has extended the play to one act, exploring the life of protagonist Joe as the Tories scramble to deal with the fallout of Brexit.
Directed by David House and Madhav Vasantha
Madhav Vasantha as Conservative MP Joe
Hannah Tarrington as Manda, Joe’s leftwing stepdaughter
Idetta Iduzza as Edi, Italian International Arts student, Manda’s girlfriend
Lois Temel as Martha, an international business lawyer, wife to Joe and Manda’s mother
Kate O’Rourke as Kelly, top Tory backbencher
David House as Tony, egotistical Tory backbencher