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David House’s Birth of a Nation at Theatre N16

Birth of a NationWho would be an MP? Actually, as there are on average 15 applications for every vacancy, it turns out quite a lot of people would. But you do have to wonder why. The money is OK but the hours, for the majority that really look after their constituency, are long and one minor comment taken out of place can blow up into a national talking point, a word ending in ‘gate’ and the destruction of your entire career. And then, there is the constant lampooning by the press, media and playwrights such as David House who has added to the political comedy satire with his work in progress Birth of a Nation which I caught at Theatre N16 in Balham.

Joe (Madhav Vasantha) is a conservative MP and is advised by a couple of other MPs, egotistical backbencher Tony (David House) and Kelly (Kate O’Rourke) a very traditional Tory with fitted suits, a cut glass accent and a ‘for the greater good’ attitude towards the masses. Jo himself is not necessarily someone you would have immediately taken to be a conservative in that he is not a middle aged, upper class, privately educated white man. True he is a man but the rest just doesn’t apply. Joe also is different from the perceived idea of a tory politician in that the has a social conscience. However, to the party, he is seen as an asset that can be wheeled out as the acceptable face of conservatism for whatever idea they want to get in front of the public. He goes along with being used like this but tries to get involved in issues he actually believe in. Joe’s life at home isn’t fantastic either. He and his lawyer wife Martha (Lois Temel) seem to be growing apart as their careers take them away from each other and their daughter Manda (Hanna Tarrington) who is at university disagrees with her father politically in every way and basically just wants to live the a left wing student life with her Italian girlfriend Edi (Ida Di Terlizzi). As the European referendum draws closer, Kelly and Tony put Joe up as the face of the Remain campaign. Will he be able to persuade the floating voters to tick the right box, what will be the fallout of the vote in a family that cannot agree on anything where politics is concerned and is Joe’s career going to be helped or hindered as the analysis of the campaign looks for the winners and the losers?

I have to say that for a work in progress Birth of a Nation is not that far from the finished article. David House has written and directed a really nice microcosm of British family life during the referendum debate and added in some lovely observations on the political machinations going on in the background. The fact that Jo is BME is another facet that works really well adding to the complexity of the story. Thinking back, I have to say that whilst I appreciated all of the characters I have a definite best and worst. I really loved Kelly. Although it wasn’t obvious where she was in the party hierarchy, it was obvious she had a lot of influence and wielded some power behind the scenes. By the end I was questioning my perception of Kelly even more and did wonder if she had been playing a much longer game with our new PM to move all the pieces into position before the coup de grace on DC. My only really minor criticism was that she used a small paper diary, Kelly is definitely as smartphone type of politician. A fascinating character and brilliantly played by Kate O’Rourke. My least favourite, was Manda and full credit to David and Hannah Tarrington for making her irritating. Manda was, to me at least, a typical stroppy teenager from a privileged background who was willing to throw everything her parents had given her back in their faces, whilst still living of their money. Her left wing leanings were just right with slogans instead of facts as her political mantra and that wonderful belief that the young have that whatever they say or read online is the truth. Fabulously annoying character. The rest of the cast were excellent and I will give a mention to Lois Temel, who pretty much managed to channel my parents’ thoughts and words as she explained why she had voted for Brexit. The staging worked really well with the transitions between the various locations being smoothly accomplished thanks to some great lighting design.

Birth of a Nation started life as a short piece in one of the excellent scratch nights organised by Actor Awareness and David House has done an excellent job in expanding the piece into an hour long show. I was really pleased at how politically balanced the show was – not what I was expecting from the poster. The writing was finely balanced so that everyone got their point of view across and, unlike some plays of a similar ilk, it didn’t end up feeling like a party political broadcast. The good news is that it is very relevant for now as the aftermath of Brexit sets it but it will remain relevant for years to come as this generation grow up and look back to the eventful vote and its repercussions.

To sum up, if this was the work in progress, I can’t wait for the fully finished version of Birth of a Nation to hit the stage.

4 Stars

Review by Terry Eastham

We’re out of the EU! The Labour party is crumbling from within! The NHS moves steadily closer to privatisation and the Tory government has a completely fairly elected new PM! Life is great. Isn’t it?

Birth of a Nation is a work in progress play that takes a satirical look at the failings of a Tory government riddled with NHS pains, Boris Johnson and Brexit.

Joe is a fresh faced, hot shot Conservative MP. Internationally aware and sympathetic to the working classes but a realist in a time of social and political upheaval. As Britain finds itself in uncertain turmoil and the members of the Labour party bicker amongst themselves, the Conservatives aim to look strong and they aim to make Joe an international superstar of right wing politics, the face on the frontline of a new Conservative party. But are Joe’s left-wing leanings at odds with what the party wants from him?

Birth of a Nation comes from writer and actor David House, who previously co-wrote and stared in the Edinburgh Fringe hit show Jeremy Kyle Does Shakespeare. Birth of Nation began as a 15-minute play that previewed at the Actor Awareness Health Night at Theatre N16 in May. Following audience acclaim, David has extended the play to one act, exploring the life of protagonist Joe as the Tories scramble to deal with the fallout of Brexit.

Directed by David House and Madhav Vasantha

Madhav Vasantha as Conservative MP Joe
Hannah Tarrington as Manda, Joe’s leftwing stepdaughter
Idetta Iduzza as Edi, Italian International Arts student, Manda’s girlfriend
Lois Temel as Martha, an international business lawyer, wife to Joe and Manda’s mother
Kate O’Rourke as Kelly, top Tory backbencher
David House as Tony, egotistical Tory backbencher

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