The Bush Theatre drops the mic with this ambitious drama about karaoke and the English far right
Our lives are constantly doused in the ketchup of chart music, so it’s odd that we don’t get more plays about karaoke. However, playwright Chris Thompson has eagerly seized on pub karaoke as the medium for his new play about alienated white working classes East Enders.
The story follows Jayson, a young gay man struggling to reconcile his class loyalty and his sexuality when he starts going out with a young Asian. Throw into the mix a sister killed in Afghanistan, his pub landlord uncle trying to shake off the violent image of the far right and a woman who’s given up social work to fight political correctness and the play certainly has plenty to sing about.
Thompson made an impressive debut with his young offenders drama ‘Carthage’ at the Finborough Theatre earlier this year, but that was a taut, focused drama with a clear, angry and emotional through line. This is not.
Thompson is definitely onto something in his rage at the self-censorship demanded by cosy liberal elites who inhabit a world apart. Steve John Shepherd’s landlord Paul, for example, feels forced to kow-tow to Muslims he associates with the death of his niece, and he snarls that to be English is to be ashamed. It’s serious and controversial stuff, but too many of Thompson’s scenes end in impotent rage or despairing gags. Jayson’s relationship is implausible and sentimentalized, while the ruse of devising scenes around karaoke numbers – from the ‘Macarena’ to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ – feels ever more strained.
Ria Parry’s production has much of significance to say and Parry’s cast labour tirelessly to pull it off. Tony Clay packs the effervescent energy of a litre of Red Bull as Jayson, while Shepherd toils manfully as the landlord who feels cornered and betrayed.
But the standout performance is from Natalie Casey as Christine, the forceful and forthright social worker who is also a karaoke ace.
Overall though, provocative and prescient as it is, a powerhouse of new writing talent like the Bush should know better than to make a play take the mic before it’s ready.
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A great thought provoking play which issues a statement on politics that it is not about left or right, its about right and wrong. A great use of songs add to the emotions and dimensions of the character. Many layers of thinking needs to be applied after seeing this play.