I’m With the Band by Tim Price is an entertaining and interesting idea – the United Kingdom represented by the individual members of a once indestructible indie rock band, ‘The Union’ – you gettit? Ok, so my politics is rusty, limited to Guardian blogs and reading the Metro, so I didn’t want to get anything wrong, and yet I think my ignorance is the point. I, like Damien, the frontman of the band who represents England (the brilliantly Sting-like James Hiller), am ignorant to the potential consequences of an independent Scotland, to the feelings of the slightly ignored Wales, and to the real continuing horrors of Ireland’s uneasy status quo. For me, then, this could have been a huge wake up call, and there were moments of real clarity of thought, but then there were simply moments where the idea outran itself.
The cast are multi-talented, likeable, and there is true comic genius in Matthew Bulgo the ‘Welsh, I am a dragon hear me roar, bassist’. But they can’t make up for the fact that they are allegories, not real people – as such there is little emotional depth and no real reason to care about the splitting up of this band of faded rockers from all corners of this increasingly fractured isle. It’s a shame because in a way we only ever then scratch the surface of both the emotional and political issues at hand – the ideas of betrayal, political manoeuvring, oppression, domination and independence are somewhat drowned out. Particularly drowned out by the constant shouting over one another (yes, yes I get that Scotland and Ireland are both yearning to be heard – but hardly any of the dialogue was audible, let alone digestible). All the indie rock and angry macho aggression culminated towards the end in a bit of a mess where the whole thing threatened to fall apart. It was a shame, but at this point things really didn’t seem to be able to resolve or come together, and instead it became like a really bad piece of performance art/stag night punch up.
And yet there are nuggets of gold in there – ideas of old age and performance, the premise of being an artist who doesn’t sell out being impossible in today’s climate, the redundancy of real musicians in an world of technology, an unknown future with a potentially independent Scotland and, most of all, the idea that “some people would die to be part of our band”. The very fact that whilst we fight amongst ourselves, there are people out there who see the UK as a prospective safe haven, a sanctuary and the show begins to wonder how can we keep that prospect alive.
This is nearly a great piece of theatre, but its instability in certain areas means it falls short of being brilliant. Then again, I am a smug English bastard who probably hasn’t realised the true meaning of it all.
I’m With The Band is playing at St James Theatre at from 28 August to 7 September. For more information and tickets see the St James Theatre website.