A Beginner's Guide To Populism

Mon 13th – Sat 25th August 2018


Eleanor Gunn

at 17:31 on 13th Aug 2018



Walking into the studio space of the SpaceTriplex felt almost like walking into a classroom. This was certainly fitting for the informative, yet entertaining story that takes a look at the effects of modern populism.

‘A Beginner’s Guide to Populism’ follows candidate Antonia Morgan, desperate to win a seat at any cost. Her slimy agent Jeremy Taylor, equally ambitious and unscrupulous, convinces her that the only way to win is to go with the will of the people. In this case the will is to keep the village of Little Middleton separate from the planned new city Middleton Garden City.

They explore the effects of simple language on crowds, the use of personal attack and divisive campaigning. One particularly funny, but also poignant, moment was the debate between the well-meaning village councillor Coleen, and Antonia. The councillor, infinitely more qualified and dedicated to the cause, falls flat in debate when faced with baseless accusations of elitism and corruption. Sound familiar?

With Trumpisms and Brexit rhetoric as their fuel the citizens of Little Middleton take to the streets, demanding a moat is built to keep out ‘the others’ (who these others are is never properly specified). They get progressively more extreme as the message becomes increasingly fiery. The mob, led by concerned life-long Little Middletonian Brian Barber, eventually stop all foreign trade, leading to food, power and fuel shortages, leaving the ragged leaders to attempt to remain in control.

‘A Beginner’s Guide to Populism’ becomes increasingly frantic, and the message escalates to an unrecognisable fever pitch – the tongue in cheek laughs come fewer and further between. What began as a funny, almost silly show, becomes a full blow dystopian nightmare. The climax of the show sees the would-be leader attempt to retract her words after finally realising the effect they’d had. Sadly, it was too late, and Brian, egged on by the angry mob, kills her.

It is a pretty bleak outcome considering the current political climate, and no solution is offered, the play just ends. Though the language used at first felt like a joke, it came abundantly clear that it was deadly serious. Part of the cleverness of this play was echoing the current political situation, but not copying it. In this way they are able to demonstrate the dangers without being clichéd.

There is a plethora of political satire and critique being produced at the moment, and so finding a unique take on it is hard. ‘A Beginner’s Guide of Populism’ is able to take a fairly worn out topic and give it a fresh face, it’s incredibly refreshing and thought provoking, and somehow manages to be funny too! A wonderfully thought-out production.


Olivia Cooke

at 15:41 on 14th Aug 2018



Antonia Morgan (Isabel Palmstierna) is an ambitious young politician who whips up fear and panic in a bid to advance her political career, and in the process, unleashes a tide of unstoppable populist forces. ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Populism’ is an incredibly pertinent piece of political satire, exploring the devastating effects of populism remaining unchecked.

Aided by the Malcom Tucker-esque Jeremy Taylor (Will Underwood), Morgan climbs the ranks of political power, adopting a rhetoric imbibed with xenophobia and racism. Faced with the possibility of Little Middleton being redeveloped as part of the ‘Green-City’ project, Morgan and Taylor set into motion a series of political machinations in order to secure power over the village.

Underwood and Palmstierna’s acting in their respective roles, was excellent. Both were able to capture the soundbite-worthy tone of voice, in their discussions concerning the future of Little Middleton. “We’ve got to make this country great again”, Taylor bellows at a sheepish Morgan in one of many lines which could have appeared in recent news.

Chris Townsend’s portrayal of Brian Barber (the village’s self-imposed “leader”) was a terrifically scary performance. As the production progressed, Barber became both a foot-soldier and a commanding officer in establishing Little Middleton’s independence movement. At times, Townsend’s depiction of Barber was like that (both in voice and mannerisms), of Enoch Powell. Barber’s monologue about “building a wall” around Little Middleton, eerily reminded me of Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Despite its riveting acting, which at times reminded me of watching an episode of ‘The Thick of It’, I personally felt that the performance’s sudden ending felt anti-climactic. Morgan, horrified by the consequences of her populist policies, is apparently thrown into an angry mob at the hands of Barber. This melodramatic ending undermined the important pieces of political satire made throughout the performance, and left me feeling slightly disappointed.

However, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Populism’ is very much a relevant and effective piece of political critique. The acting of its cast and its script are both comic and biting. A worthwhile show to watch in our particular political climate.


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