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Howard Brenton's Magnificence at the Finborough Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 30th Oct 2016 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Joel Gilman (Jed), Tyson Douglas (Cliff), Daisy Hughes (Mary), Will Bliss (Will), Eva-Jane Willis (Veronica)

We are the writing on your wall!

Originally commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre in 1973, Howard Brenton's political play reflecting the state of Britain at that time has not been seen in London in over forty years. The Finborough in co-production with Fat Git Theatre is presenting a revival of Magnificence and sadly, many of the issues addressed in the play are still unresolved and remain as relevant as ever.

London, 1973. A group of left-wing activists have broken into an empty flat to protest against homelessness and redevelopment. The squatters hope to make a point by occupying the flat and hanging a banner from the window that nobody can actually read: "We are doing our humble best to wreck society". Newcomer Veronica (Eva-Jane Willis), who used to work at the BBC, is appalled by the lack of efficiency and action. After ten days the bailiff forces them out, using excessive violence against the pregnant Mary (Daisy Hughes), whilst Veronica is shouting quotes from Mao's little red book at the "fascists". Jed (Joel Gilman) is sent to prison and his girlfriend Mary miscarries. When Jed is released, he has become radicalised and plans to use gelignite to make an explosive statement.

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Hayward B Morse (Babs) and Tim Faulkner (Alice)

Set against the main plot are two darkly comic sketches, one entailing a conversation between the bailiff Slaughter (Chris Porter) and a police officer (Tim Faulkner) who thinks that we are all part of a Martian experiment. Slaughter, a racist and a bully, admits that he did have a bad conscience when harrassing a nice old British lady to repossess her flat, he didn't even blink when bullying her Pakistani neighbours. The second sketch involves dying Tory politician Babs (Hayward B Morse) who has been shuffled off into Academia after his extensive political career. He has invited his former lover Alice (Tim Faulkner) to keep him company on his last day. As they are punting along the Cam in this hilarious scene, Babs reminisces about old times and creates his own obituary. The strings all come together when Jed assaults Alice, a high-ranking Tory politician, with the intent to blow him up: "A little blaze for the the delight and encouragement of all your enemies."

The activists seem all very incompetent and toothless against the establishment. While they choose to leave their middle-class existence to squat in a run-down flat, a homeless man (quite a departure for Hayward B Morse) is already living there because he has no choice. Nobody cares about their protest except for the bailiff who considers them a nuisance and evicts them eventually for the redevelopment to go ahead. Today protests are far better organised, with the help of the internet and social media, and the efforts of this group seem pathetic at best. But how effective are our protests today? Redevelopment, gentrification, and homelessness are still very much with us, forty years later. However, violence should not be an option, as Brenton clearly demonstrates.

Josh Roche's production features an excellent cast, particularly Hayward B Morse as the retired Tory Babs, Tim Faulkner as the seemingly pleasant Alice who tries to keep his stiff-upper-lip attitude in any situation, and Chris Porter as the ruthless Slaughter who does have a conscience as long as his victim is white and British.

Designer Philip Lindley's set with peeling wallpaper and debris lining the walls is in absurd contrast with the posh Tory scene, adding to the irony of the play.

A highly relevant must-see production.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 19th November 2016

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval

Photographs by Tegid Cartwright.

 

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