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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Angry Brigade
Bush Theatre   Spring 2015

James Graham has written what amounts to two interrelated plays here, somewhat in the mode of TV shows like Law & Order. 

Act One shows the police attempting to identify and catch an anarchist terrorist cell, while Act Two doubles back in time to follow the terrorists through the same time period.

(In the published text Graham actually allows for the acts to be done in either order, or even cut-and-pasted together, but director James Grieve has chosen this way.) 

The first act is essentially a police procedural with a documentary feel. Faced in 1971 with an unknown and unfamiliar foe, Scotland Yard assembles a unit of young officers in the hope that they might be able to think like (and thus out-think) the offenders. 

And through a mix of comic bumbling (the cops share a joint while listening to rock in the hope of understanding the bad guys), good luck (an informer overhears something), and solid plodding police work, they get there. 

Act Two is more of a psychological study. As the four young radicals debate political theory with a believable mix of astute thought and callow enthusiasm, we begin to see how these mainly middle-class kids became radicalised. 

Predictably there's a certain amount of rebellion against parents and guilt at coming from privileged backgrounds, but there is also admirable intelligence at work addressing serious questions and coming up with the wrong answers. 

With the same four actors – Harry Melling, Pearl Chanda, Mark Arends and Lizzy Watts – playing all the roles, the terrorists are generally individualised and fleshed out more fully than the police. 

Arends dominates the first act as the most astute of the cops, and Melling the second as the most complex and intelligent of the revolutionaries. 

The Angry Brigade is never less than interesting, and sometimes – particularly in the second half – engrossing.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Angry Brigade - Bush Theatre 2015

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