War is on the agenda once again in this world premier of a new play by Mike Bartlett, directed by Thea Sharrock. This time, it's a possible war against Iran. The United States are attempting to negotiate with the Iranians, but are keeping the British at arms length, at least while talks are progressing. The Prime Minister is happy to take a back seat, as long as she is kept 'updated' (notice that the 'she' here is not a reincarnation of the Iron Lady, but a re-branded version – a Tory with a social heart).
While the Iranian situation is unfolding behind the scenes, other events are taking place involving an assortment of characters from different walks of life. All of these people are looking for some kind of change and find inspiration in the form of John, a prophetic character who combines personal magnetism with considerable oratorical skills. 'All that's needed in the end', he says, 'is belief'. Just what that means for social change and economic reform is not clarified, however. But John manages to assemble a gathering of half a million people which gets the PM concerned enough to arrange a meeting with him before she makes a final decision about whether to support the USA in their plans to invade Iran.
A large black rotating cube sits illuminated above the stage before the play begins, and a larger version forms the main set. The cube has echoes of the black monolith from Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'. It might represent machines such as the servers which link social networks together over the internet, or the chips which power our mobile devices, helping us to connect with like-minded chums and activists. On the other hand, it might just be a massive, gloomy representation of Rubik's Cube, which for me is the same kind of enigma. But the idea of networks bringing together people to take political action is certainly part of the concept here, and it is used to great effect by the Prime Minister to defeat John and his followers.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, the OccupyLSX protest outside St Paul's Cathedral in London as well as other recent political protests in cities around the world, it is clear that many people, particularly the young, are seeking change and reform. The banking crisis we have had to live through has highlighted some fundamental dysfunctionally in the market economy, and has energised the desire for social and economic justice. Couple that with the question of whether we should wage war on Iran to prevent that country obtaining and possibly using nuclear weapons and you have a recipe for an intriguing and absorbing investigation. And Mike Bartlett's play is not simply one-sided - it delivers a powerful discussion of the arguments as seen from different viewpoints: the disparate band of protesters on the one hand and the political establishment on the other. Even so, it feels a little naïve, perhaps intentionally so. But I do not think it is necessary for John to have super-human powers - to divine the weather, for example, and to tell what ails his former university lecturer – that seemed to add an unnecessary layer and muddy an already complex pool. On the whole though, it is an intelligent and thought-provoking production.
"This credibility-straining play adds up to less than the sum of its parts "
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"A memorable essay in widescreen theatre"
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press