I was very much looking forward to the election night special staged by Dirty Protest Theatre, as it provided an antidote to all the discussion and debate surrounding the snap election. In true ‘Dirty Protest’ style, it was performed at an alternative venue at the centre of Cardiff, Castle Emporium. The place was packed, which was heartening to see as many left their TV sets and Question Time for a different interpretation of the momentous event. This unique type of theatre was launched in 2007, providing a platform for new writers and a voice for unestablished playwrights.
Based on the theme ‘Here we go again’, eight writers composed short pieces especially for election night. The writers were: Dick Johns, Katherine Chandler, Jafar Iqbal, Emily Garside, Kit Lambert, Nicola Reynolds, Sam Bees, Kelly Marie Jones. The standard of writing and originality varied, but it was nice to see a range of styles and a variety of perspectives. The pieces pivoted between humour and intensity, and explored themes such as relationships and abortion. For me, I would have personally preferred a sole focus on election themes and grappling with the dire political questions we face, especially as the arts are affected so much by the climate of Brexit and Trump. I would also have liked more scathing satire, as this was at its best in some of the plays, and subtly explored issues of national identity.
For me, the highlight was a comedy piece following the break, which had everyone in stitches. An interactional pub quiz with the audience cleverly indicated the failings and characteristics of the political parties and their leaders, coupled with a very funny quizmaster. This might have been more suited as an opening act as it ignited such a great response and included the audience too. I also enjoyed a piece that explored the relationship between man and woman, and the inherent differences between them. However, I would have generally liked more depth and substance in engaging with pressing political topics, as the medium of drama affords such a rich pathway to conveying subtle or allegorical nuances that could be utilized to interpret our political climate today.
The actors had a good rapport with the audience, and their ethos was commendable. I did feel at times that reading a script could be disconcerting as we lost the chemistry between the characters as well as their facial expressions. Half the actors were established or well-known and the other half were new, and this type of theatre is to be commended for teasing out burgeoning performers.
The absence of a set and props was both refreshing and bare, meaning we could concentrate on the dynamics between characters and the words. However, in terms of practicalities, the lack of a traditional stage meant that at times we could not see the actors at all as they weren’t raised whatsoever, thus missing the visual element that is imperative for the medium of theatre. I was also annoyed that it did not start until 8pm, despite noting 7pm on the facebook event. Packing eight plays also meant that evening was quite long, and actually finished after 10, so for those who wanted to follow the election programmes that began at 10pm, it was disappointing to miss the start of those as we did not get back until nearer 11. Arranging this type of event intended for a special period of time such as election night was a good decision, but it would also have been good to be mindful of time issues and practicalities.
I’m glad I went as the pieces indicated a lot of work in a short space of time by the director, but maybe it wasn’t quite what I expected in terms of addressing the election night. There is a lot to be said about a raw and improvised staging, but for me the experience was not as memorable and thought-provoking as I had hoped.