Following the London riots of 2011, the media began to be aware of the term ‘domestic extremist’, which had been coined by the Metropolitan Police, ostensibly to describe people it was watching in the interest of national security. What it actually turned out to mean was, of course, terrorists, but also pretty much anyone who had ever been to a rally or protest, any outspoken journalist they fancied, anyone who had been a member of the Met’s official watchdog, or basically anyone who had ever demonstrated a political opinion in public.
In Dan Davies’s new play at The Space, the domestic extremists are student groups protesting against the six-grand hike in tuition fees that this government has seen in, and the selling-off of their education to callous international corporations. Chloe, a young filmmaker, pitches a film about the protests to jaded TV commissioner Christopher, and the film eventually emerges – mangled into a very different shape from how it looked in Chloe’s pitch portfolio by the pressures of dollar-eyed TV bosses. The film, however, is not the only thing to come out of the TV mangle looking remarkably different, as Chloe and Christopher face the unholy balance of truthful reporting and rating figures.
This is an extremely smart play that packs political and cultural debate in so tightly that barely a sentence is spoken that couldn’t plausibly be heard on Question Time. However, the characters do not become agenda-spouting automatons, but rather come to life through their ideological battling.
The only problem is that with the combination of Davies’s crammed script and Borowiecki’s slick and airless direction, the dialogue speeds past you so fast that it’s hard to get a good grasp on the issue in hand. Like in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, the characters are always impossibly eloquent and well-informed, which is incredibly satisfying yet endlessly frustrating when it’s too quick to catch. It’s a shame that everything is so quick, because the acting is also excellent (although slightly overcooked in places). Jonathan Leinmuller as Christopher is likeable and charismatic, and performs the character’s journey with integrity and humour. Nicola Dalziel’s Chloe is equally committed and truthful.
Michael Roy Andrews is tightly wound and engagingly alive in the role of TV boss Toby, although with machine-gun delivery that is the hardest to catch of the lot. Sadie Parsons chameleons her way through the piece, snapping into seven different beautifully played characters at various points to give much-needed context to this largely office-based script.
The production fearlessly places itself right in the centre of some very pertinent political issues, taking its audience directly to the battleground rather than portraying it from a figurative distance. It despairs at a society where important issues must sell their souls for publicity, to media outlets whose primary agenda is sensationalism. In this world there is no middle-ground between a sell-out and a martyr, and the one can easily transform into the other.
The Domestic Extremists played at the Space until 28 February. To find out more, see A Younger Theatre’s interview with playwright Daniel Davies.