Pressure Points, written by Jack Stanley and presented in the stripped-back space at the White Bear, asks us what being a political young person today might look like. Following the fortunes and (mostly self-inflicted) misfortunes of Fran and Tara, student friends who begin their own political pressure group within the cosy and unreal confines of campus. Here, anything seems possible and (at times) everything might be permitted. The law isn’t quite the law, and reality not quite reality. The country and its politicians outside seems often like a remote, clownish sideshow to the real changes taking place in the hearts and minds of students.
Stanley clearly possesses a sharp eye with which he observed cleverly and with lovely detail the minutiae of student concerns, egotisms and the attempt to manage your own boundless, undisciplined ambition. From negotiating the push-pull attraction of being a BNOC (“Big Name on Campus”) to the grey-area ethics of throwing bricks through office windows, Stanley gives his two female leads heavy doses of bravado, cluelessness and conscience, and does a finely realistic job of making us believe their constant shifts in perspective and their naïve changes of heart.
Beth Mullen (Fran) and Lowenna Melrose (Tara) are both strong and complement each other well. Stanley has a good ear for flowing, realistically choppy exchanges and the bantering but slightly edgy relationship between the two (as well as Chloe Astleford’s Alicia) has a fiery unpredictability. Ryan Woodcock, performing six male roles in varying accents, all well, a softer and more contemplative presence to the fast-paced, talk-talk atmosphere.
The strength of Pressure Points is that, while it would appear as an overtly political play, its interest is really less on political specifics than it is the effects on different young people, students, of so desperately wanting to be involved, to make a difference, or even (and for dubious reasons) simply to “be somebody”. An especially interesting moment comes when Woodcock performs a brief role as a student convinced to abandon his final exams to dedicate himself to “the cause”, to which Tara reacts with bewildered discomfort. Stanley seems to have hit upon something which often seems to be the case: that a great deal of student politics begins with the self-centred and the individualistic rather than the communal. It comes from the need to find an identity, even to carve one out of other people’s misfortunes.
This ‘need’ is the issue which seems most at play here, and it is a fascinating one. This is why I sometimes wished that we could have slowed down with the non-stop decline-and-fall story of Fran and Tara’s “Propulsion” group, one event or mishap following from the last. Some more considered, slow consideration of its characters reasons for caring about what they cared about or believing what they thought they believed in would have given some more depth and weight.
That being said, with characters are well-drawn and acted, the story is fast-paced, never dull. Pressure Points tells us a story in which the personal and the political are interdependent. In our increasingly bizarre times, stories that are this honest about some aspects of politics are certainly welcome.
Pressure Points played at the White Bear Theatre until 17 November. For more information and tickets, click here.