EFR - Reviews of I'm Backing Britain

I'm Backing Britain

Thu 13th – Fri 14th August 2015

reviews

Michael Roderick

at 10:59 on 15th Aug 2015

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In a time when patriotism is often associated with xenophobia and jingoism, Sean Lang’s new play I’m Backing Britiain offers a timely reminder that patriotism isn’t just a reactionary force, it can sometimes produce great things, and sometimes be entirely innocent. It is, amongst other things, a meditation on the nature of duty to one’s country. It’s a curious play that sometimes resembles a conservative fantasy of hard work versus lazy labour, but it is assuredly a strong piece of writing ably acted (more or less).

Performed by the Anglia Ruskin Creative, the piece concerns the ‘I’m Backing Britain’ campaign: a group of young women typists in 1968 who decide to work an extra half-hour in the morning and thus galvanise the nation into doing the same, in an effort to rescue the country from economic irrelevance. The typists attain celebrity, which all but their pure-hearted spokesperson, Pauline (Emma Howell), embrace. The media storm is co-ordinated by the slimy Mickey Tanner (Harrison Kendall), and as their fame increases, so do their enemies. Throughout the women are constantly reminded of the sacrifice of previous generations (particularly by their boss, Mr Molyneux, played by Joseph Kinsella) and the laxity and egoism of the current one.

At all times are we reminded that we’re in the 60s – Beatlemania, Profumo and Robert Maxwell all lurk behind the piece – and these signifiers can get a little annoying, especially when the cast inexplicably break out into dance. I was struck, also, by the portrayal of the Trade Union movement, who are pretty much the villains of the play, trying as they do via their spokesperson Roy Wilks (Rupert Woods) to portray the campaign as being nothing else but a capitulation of labour to capital. The unionists are portrayed as spiteful egoists, a group out of touch with the real workers. Indeed, at its worst, the play can at times resemble a propaganda piece for Cameron’s Big Society- a conservative fantasy. I was struck, also, that the director Bryony Webster also directed a modernised version of Lysistrata last year, for it is the Lysistrata that this play reminded me most of; in both does a noble, pure woman lead a group of less pure, less intelligent women into political action to fix the corrupt and venal world of men.

The acting was all well done, with particular mention for Emma Howell as Pauline and Harrison Kendall as Mickey Tanner, who carried the play excellently. This was a strange play, quite different to the usual preoccupations of Fringe new writing. It is certainly, though, some of the most interesting and probing new writing on offer.

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Ed Grimble

at 14:05 on 15th Aug 2015

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Recent stagings of plays like David Hare and Howard Brenton’s Pravda and James Graham’s This House prove that there is a huge appetite for sharp and powerful political comedy-dramas. Writer Seán Lang certainly creates a pacey and well-crafted piece of theatre. Despite some conspicuous lapses in quality in some, I’m Backing Britain is a commendable show by this Fringe debutant.

1968 saw Harold Wilson’s Britain in the economic doldrums, with the budget deficit the highest it had ever been since the Second World War. In a bid to do their part to help the country get back on its feet, four Surbiton typists launch the ‘I’m Backing Britain’ campaign, with the premise that workers freely give an extra half an hour of labour at the start or end of their day. Lang does extremely well to present the whole history in under an hour.

The dialogue is lucid and clean, and clever freeze frame like pauses allow new events or characters to be digested and assessed.

Lang cleverly uses Mickey Tanner (Harrison Kendall) as a narrator-esque figure as means of sliding a lens over the way we view his play. In this case, the new angle is the media and newspapers. Tanner’s rapacious desire for ‘the story’ and his unscrupulous ethics centering around sleazy quid pro quo journalism culminate in a botched sexual assault attempt which unfortunately, along with several other moments in the play, seem to come from nowhere and feel more than a little out of place. However, despite acting that strayed into the overzealous, Kendall does a sterling job in his role at the centre of I’m Backing Britain.

On the whole, the supporting cast are of a reasonably high standard. Emma Howell, Charlotte Wibrew, Sophie Davies and Annelies Dixie portray Surbiton typists Pauline, Jackie, Carol and Sandra with a warming enthusiasm, and they in turn are the perfect foil to Rupert Woods who plays both bloodthirsty newspaper editor Bruce Scott and Trade Union representative Ron Wilks. Attention to detail in period costumes and set dressing, alongside a lovely score of 60s pop tracks give I’m Backing Britain a good dose of visual and audial credibility to complement its historical plot, leaving it feeling far from amateurish.

There is a small tendency to perhaps cast growing nationalist thought in an overly positive light. Take for example Lang’s own character Alec Dexter who with his irritatingly cheery demeanour and tattersall shirt (whilst praising malicious statesman Enoch Powell), is something of a caricature of the happy go lucky Ukipper.

Narrative gripes and questionable dramatic and directorial decisions aside though, all involved in this fast paced and innovative political drama should be commended for their efforts, and Lang has certainly justified the critical acclaim many of his plays have received.

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