Writer David House’s Birth of a Nation makes a valiant attempt at political comedy; with political references aplenty; all that’s missing is the comedy. To spend the hour trying to find nuance in the rather shallow, didactic proselytism is futile; the play gives us nothing new, nothing meaningful, and seems – if anything – to simply repeat the baseless rhetoric it aims to satirise.
The play does have the potential to be quite amusing, but in this political climate, the Brexit it depicts is more worrying than funny to the play’s intended audiences. Arbitrarily throwing in some ‘relevant references’ to modern-day issues we face patronises an audience who have already been irked by the play’s attempts to seemingly boil down the negatives of the Brexit vote to something as banal or trivial as merely the end of hassle-free travel around Europe.
Politics and comedy aside, then, the remaining dialogue is not exactly noteworthy: gratuitous ‘awkward,’ ‘relatable’ moments between a daughter and step-father and a few snogging scenes serve to break up the story-line, but the play leaves the audience feeling as though it lacked purpose and drive towards the lukewarm ending.
Gaz Wilson’s direction is an awkward fit stylistically – characters miss the boat on being so over-exaggerated they’re funny, and instead can come across as annoying and unrealistic in a play touching on a very real topic – perhaps therein the hyperbole necessitated by satire is transferred from the writing to the acting?
Some over-enunciation and inarticulateness issues aside, the ensemble cast make a fairly decent job of characters, despite limited development; David House as Tony nicely portrays a rather atypical Conservative backbencher to glean some laughter from audience members, and Lois Temel as Martha plays the part of distant wife and clandestine Eurosceptic well.
All in all, though the writing lacks the finesse and sophistication warranted by its billing as ‘political satire,’ it is entirely probable that Birth of a Nation doesn’t work because our politics today are beyond satire already – can one lampoon the already absurd?
Birth of a Nation played at SLAM King’s Cross until October 30.