The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
18 May 2023
"Against a backdrop of Tory cuts, high unemployment and the deregulated economy of 1970s Britain, a young urban guerrilla group mobilises: The Angry Brigade. Their targets: MPs, embassies, police, pageant queens. A world of order is shattered by anarchy and the rules have changed. An uprising has begun. No one is exempt."
As James Graham's play opens on the RCS stage, a police commander (James Crutcher) asks police sergeant Smith (Matt Barningham) to form a special operations squad to hunt a gang of terrorists who have recently carried out a series of bomb attacks across London. This small team eventually became the Met police's bomb squad and latterly the anti-terrorist branch!
The first 10 minutes of action with just Crutcher and Barningham on stage are captivating thanks in part to the funny and well written script, but mainly due to the talent and charisma of both actors. With Smith we learn more about the ongoing serious and perilous situation, but there's also humour via a biscuit dunking incident.
I saw Matt Barningham play Putin in A Very Expensive Poison last year and his performance then chilled me to the bone. It's difficult to believe this is the same actor playing the bright, earnest, Smith. I know that's what actors do, but it's seriously impressive.
As the first act progresses we meet the other officers of the special squad (Sam Pitcher, Lola Aluko and Molly McGrath), various witnesses and informants (Lily Blunsom-Washbrook and Jacob Abraham) and we catch the occasional, veiled glimpse of the mysterious Angry Brigade themselves.
The staging for the first act is masterfully designed with the police action front and centre and the Angry Brigade behind a veil. The police drama unfolds as if we are watching a TV serial on screen, with incident boards, paper files, desks and chairs moved around constantly. Lighting and music is used to accentuate the drama, and it's all beautifully choreographed and works well to intrigue and enthral the audience.
I'd happily tune in to watch these actors and this show every week! Sam Pitcher is such a fine comic actor and Lola and Molly are wonderfully authentic and spirited as the WPCs. Molly's stutter when she finds out she has only been temporarily promoted was priceless. The multiple characters played by Lily and Jacob are fascinating; dazzlingly brought to life and fully realised. You'd never guess where any of these actors hail from; The London (and other) accents are spot on.
I loved this piece. The 95 minute act flies by as we watch the police learn, evolve and, ahem, experiment. No spoilers here, but I may have blushed.
After the interval, the focus switches to The Angry Brigade themselves (Tia Marcella Benvenuti, Olaya Ciccarelli-Bermudez, Euan Munro and Julian Shatkin). The same story is told from their perspective and we learn of their surprising backgrounds and motivations.
The action all comes together to end at the same point as the first act did. It's such a clever and well presented format for a play!
I will be honest, I enjoyed the first act more. There was more going on in the first act, more character development, more intrigue. In contrast, the second act seemed darker, somehow more remote - and even though shocking in parts and well acted (of course) I didn't gel with the characters as much. Maybe that says more about me than the script that I can relate to the authorities better than the anarchists!
The trial of the real Angry Brigade in 1972 is the longest running criminal trial in English History. Their legacy lives on in various books, documentaries and plays. Going in, I knew little about them or their bombing campaigns, and I love that RCS always choose lesser known works to perform. It's always a pleasure and an education to attend an RCS production.
All of the students in this final year BA Acting class are magnificent. The BA Acting programme at RCS is so prestigious and sought after, they accept only 24 students on to the course out of almost 2000 applications per year. Previous graduates include household names such as James McAvoy, Sam Heughan, Richard Madden, Laura Donnelly and Ncuti Gatwa - the next Doctor Who!
This year's graduates are particularly strong and I've adored every performance I've seen from them. Starting their professional training in the most difficult of circumstances during the 2020 Covid pandemic and rolling lock-downs, I applaud their determination and resilience, and I can't wait to watch their careers take off. Can I have their autographs?!
📸 Production photos: Robbie McFadzen
There are two final chances to catch this production of The Angry Brigade today at 1400 (matinee) or 1900 (evening). 🎟️Tickets and more information here
🌟 A review of The Angry Brigade play by James Graham by BA Acting,
RCS, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, May 2023 🌟
🎟️ Disclaimer: *I was invited to review this show by The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I received a comp ticket in exchange for my Instagram content and blog review. Whether I am gifted a ticket or not has absolutely no impact on my reviews or star ratings!
📸 Follow @Lisa_InTheTheatre on Instagram for more photos and videos.
📧 For media and review requests contact Lisa_InTheTheatre@outlook.com