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  In the Club
Hampstead Theatre, London

Andrew Haydon
posted 7 August 2007

If history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, then British political theatre certainly seems to have moved into the latter phase. Farce seems to be the medium of the moment. Consider the evidence, alongside the verbatim accounts and state-of-the-nation offerings, Feelgood, Who’s The Daddy?, A Right Royal Farce, Whipping It Up and King of Hearts, have all opted for the mechanics of the form to make their points. And in the mainstream too, away from any political considerations, farce is making a real comeback: just look at the success of Boeing-Boeing or See How They Run.

Either way, with In the Club, Richard Bean has played a blinder. Of the recent crop of political farces, this is the real stand-out success. Why? In simple terms, because it functions beautifully as both as a farce and as a piece of observational political comedy. The narrative is so well plotted that at times the audience is left genuinely astonished at the sleights of hand performed before them - the way that casual, throwaway comments lead to fatal repercussions is near magical in its deftness. At the same time, Bean throws his characters some of the sharpest one-liners on politics since Yes, Minister, along with a healthy dose of toilet humour.

Here is cynicism at its funniest - not flippant and corrosive, but apparently drawn from a deep well of disgust and crafted in sparkling jokes. It is edgy too: how many playwrights would have the courage to tackle head-on Turkey’s accession to the EU with outright assaults on its massive debts, Islamic influence and human rights record, while at the same time offering a genial Yorkshireman UKIP MEP with nigh-on fascistic views on gypsies, who, when comparing the prospect of a Europe run by Communist Russia or the EU concludes ‘at least Stalin wasn’t a poof’?

Oddly, at its heart, this is a likeable romantic play about uxorious love. Philip Wardrobe MEP (played by archetype of rumpled English middle-classness James Fleet) is not a serious philanderer. He is, however, an opportunist on the make, taking bungs from the Turkish to grease the wheels of their accession to the EU, while trying to split the opposition in order to become EU President. So it seems rather cruel that his room nonetheless fills with farce’s requisite number of be-towelled ladies. Indeed cruelty is a keynote here: in farce terms this is at times every bit as dark as Orton ever was, but without making a song and dance about it. The close of the first half is reminiscent of Measure For Measure in its black delight at how fate has contrived to undo the protagonist.

That’s not to say that the silliness is derailed. Being set at the heart of European government, there are more than enough silly accents and national stereotypes to keep any British audience amused, offering an imperious German socialist Fraulein, a nymphomaniac French feminist and a philosophical Belgian spy. But, behind all the fun there is a constant stream of intelligent needling at important issues using the mechanics of farce to ask some rarely addressed questions. There is a good deal more here than meets the eye. Highly recommended.

Till 25 August 2007


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