‘Go Bang Your Tambourine’ review
Time Out says
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Dodgy ’70s gender politics sink this initially intriguing revival about a lonely young man in the Salvation Army
‘Go Bang Your Tambourine’ is a frustrating curio of a play. Written in 1970 by Philip King, at times it’s a genuinely affecting portrait of grief and loneliness, as shy 19-year-old David struggles to cope with the death of his mother. As he knocks around in the faded, beige North Country house they shared, carefully setting the table for tea each day, it feels sad and real.
It’s also intriguing to watch the wariness with which other characters treat the Salvation Army, of which David, and formerly his mother, is a devout member. King highlights its existence as a religious organisation, with huge domestic influence. It’s a surrogate family David has wrapped around himself like the distinctive coat he wears. It’s far more than a collecting tin.
The first act of ‘Go Bang Your Tambourine’ is a slow-moving, nicely observed domestic drama, with good work from Sebastian Calver as David. He switches between stiff-shouldered, face-crumpled teenage misery and childlike, almost explosive joy. And Mia Austen, as barmaid Bess, who takes the spare room David advertises, is effortlessly charismatic. They’re an engaging odd-couple.
But the wheels come off in the second act, when David’s father, Thomas, who left his family when David was 15, reappears, bag in hand, demanding to stay. In John Sackville’s hands, Thomas is pretty repulsive. He blames David’s mother’s faith for driving him away, but he’s clearly driven by petty ego, insecurity and a toxic need for control.
When Thomas first meets Bess, alone at home, he leers at her, insults her and gropes her. And in spite of there being no evidence of any attraction to him on her part before this, she responds favourably. Because, what, this is the 1970s? King’s writing audibly creaks with age as it clumsily sets up its third-act conflict by throwing Bess on to the bonfire of sacrificed female characters.
It’d be one thing if the writing and direction properly lay the groundwork for a messily complicated relationship. But, here, it just comes across as a shoddy piece of sexist plot manoeuvring, which director Tricia Thorns never really gets to grips with. It casts an ugly shadow over the rest of the production.