Acts Of Disunion, White Bear Theatre – Review

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Even for the most sanguine of people, the way Brexit has dominated the headlines for the past two years has been taxing and reached saturation point. For advocates of Brexit a.k.a. ‘Brexiteers’, the ‘delays’ on agreement are frustating, while for the ‘Remainers’, the insistence of persuing Brexit without contigencies arranged is nothing short of suicide. Never has Britian been more divided… Written by Alex Hayward and directed by Rachael Bellis, Acts Of Disunion is a double bill of plays that addresses the emotional reasons for both sides of the debate.

Button – the first play – is set in the future within an underground bunker. As one of many shelters that houses communities in an apocalyptic world, this particular bunker has a ‘button’ – something that doesn’t have to be used, but factions have been clamouring to ‘push’ it. As the person in charge of weighing the pros and cons of this course of action, Julia (Zari Lewis) knows that once the decision is made, there’s no going back. Behind the campaign to push the button is Stanley (Howard Lewis Morgan) and Brian. However, on deadline day, Brian is missing, leaving Stanley ‘holding the bag’…

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As an allegory of the Brexit vote and deadline, Button hits the nail on the head. The absenteeism of those who triggered the referendum and leave campaign (Cameron, Farage, Johnson et al) leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces is well-observed, as is Stanley’s irrational, retaliatory behaviour towards Julia.

While there isn’t a direct correlation between Julia and Theresa May, the fact she eventually allows Stanley (and who he represents) to do what he wants – regardless of the potential danger to all – mirrors present events and what could happen if MPs are left to their own devices without checks and balances. The characters know how to ‘push each other’s buttons’, but will the ‘main one’ stay out of reach?

Evoking the ending of Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, the restrained use of light and sound in the play’s denouement signals the gravity of the situation…

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Kingdom – the second play of the evening – is in some ways a more nunaced affair and rooted in everyday relationships. Alton (Richard Harfst) – an elderly, lifelong resident of the East End of London – sits in his armchair, while his unwell wife sleeps in the bedroom. The ambient sound reveals the digging that’s taking place outside and the less-than-tranquil surroundings. A visit by Alton’s son, Mark (Paul Boichat) is cordial, if restrained. But as they go through the motions of conversation, beneath the surface, subtext gnaws away at the words of nostalgia, revealing the crux of the matter.

When we’re first introduced to Alton in his living room, with the noise of the world outside, it’s almost like meeting Carl Fredricksen in the animated film Up – solitary and contemplating, amidst the cacophony. When he ends up talking about the ‘old days’, and how the shops and ‘make-up’ of the area has changed, he could have sounded like Alf Garnett in Til Death Do Us Part. Instead, he takes his time to articulate his thoughts, but even so he finds it hard to extricate what he wants to say from the well of feeling he has.

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It’s a fact of life that all neighbourhoods change over time. In the case of Alton, the area where he lives bears no relation to the East End he knew as a boy. This comparison exacerbates his sense of estrangement and like the house he lives in, he is a remnant of another time.

While he does his best to listen to his father without taking offence on the opinion’s expressed, Mark’s own agitation when he thinks he’s alone hints at something he’s not willing to disclose, but may affect his parents.

Again, the play’s denouement – which involves a casual, ‘innocuous’ conversation – reveals not only another layer to a father/son moment, but indirectly shows how ‘results’ obtained by misrepresenting ‘the facts’ ruins the integrity of any enterprise…

© Michael Davis 2019

Acts of Disunion ran at White Bear Theatre on 16th and 18th March.

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