Can Mike Bartlett’s play ’13’, highlighting a young population, hungry for a change of political direction with a governmental system that frustrates and appear not to listen, withstand the test of time? Set in London in 2011, when the streets were erupting into riots and the Prime Minister, portrayed as a woman, who is deciding alone whether to embark on a war against Iran, now seems only moderately nightmarish. Six years on and we have quickly transcended into a new set of problems and popular beliefs, but yes, this play is prophetic and challenging.
The multifarious collection of characters is rich picking for the legendary students of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, particularly as they rehearsed during the run up to a general election, with three terrorist attacks and a terrible fire in a high-rise block of flats occurring. The collage-like structure of the play has the characters tumble onto stage with the energy and vitality of a firework display, leaving the audience sometimes struggling to catch up.
Once we figure out the unpleasant nature of the solicitor, see where the American Ambassador’s problems really lie, meet the Islamophobic academic, the busker, militant youthful protesters and more – all seemingly not sleeping at night and having bad dreams – the monster in the room is revealed. He is a young back-packer character named John who preaches the need to reject money, materialism and success. Sadly, he fails to convince us that he has the Christ-like qualities to save the world, particularly as his popularity is spread through social media and we all know one needs money for smart phones and computers.
These students have done well, they have stimulated the political discussion within a set-less space and have proved themselves as masters of their art. They are enjoying themselves, probably too much, in the process – and who knows what they would have made of a Trump figure if he’d been relevant in 2011.
’13’ shows at Tobacco Factory Theatre until 1st July
Image by Hide the Shark, with thanks