Elevated State’s production of James Graham’s play The Angry Brigade is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. The play is based on the search for, and arrest of, members of The Angry Brigade, a left-wing revolutionary group, in London in 1971. It’s a long play – two and a half hours with a 15 minute intermission. I left feeling as if I had seen two plays with the same cast.
Act I, directed by Eda Holmes, takes place in an office of Special Branch of Scotland Yard and focuses on the identification and search for The Angry Brigade. Act II, directed by Kate Lynch, takes place in the Brigade’s squat and their bombing activities and subsequent arrest.
A few weeks ago a friend and I saw play whose first act we really didn’t like but whose second act was great. It made us think of a couple of other plays that we left thinking ‘thank god for second acts’. The Angry Brigade joins this list for me.
The characters in the first act felt like caricatures of English police officers. There was no real character development, no back story. The language and characters seemed as if they had been pulled from a late fifties’ police procedural. The acting was stagey, big and emotive. Not my favourite. Granted, some of it was quite funny. Some of it was ridiculous.
Graham wants us to see how the police grow to know and understand the revolutionaries. They read the books the revolutionaries read and listen to the music the revolutionaries listen to. At the end of the act they smoke a joint and have a mini orgy. In the office.
The issue, for me, was the script. The actors were terrific. All of them play two parts, a police officer in the first act and a revolutionary in the second. Matt Dawson plays six characters and Lauren Saunders plays five. Impressive.
One of the things I liked was seeing the actors’ ranges. Cameron Sedgwick plays the leader of the Special Force team who starts out as a very ‘yes sir, no sir, all by the rules sir’ policeman and ends up smoking a joint with his team. Terrific sexual tension between his character and Andrea Creighton’s Henderson who is balancing her desire to get ahead on the job with her desire to get married. I guess there was some character development in the first act.
And then there was the second act. The same actors, but they looked different, they moved differently. It was hard to believe that this was the same cast. And hard to believe that it was the same script. The language was natural, the characters had back stories, I could understand why they thought that it was alright to bomb embassies and public buildings. Not that I could agree with them.
Creighton is amazing as Anna Mendelson with her desire to nest and her doubts about what the group were doing. Dawson burns with anger as Jim Greenfield, the only member of the group with a working class background. He was the only
one who seemed really angry. Sedgwick’s John Barker is more laid back, he doesn’t burn the way Greenfield does. Saunder’s Hilary Creek is a mystery, she’s obviously middle class, spouts the rhetoric, but doesn’t seem entirely convinced.
I really enjoyed the second act. I felt connected to the characters and much more comfortable with the energy on stage.
After the show I lurked and eavesdropped outside. Based on the conversations I heard most people liked one of the acts more than the other. I didn’t hear anyone say that they enjoyed both. Everyone thought the acting was terrific.
The Angry Brigade is worth seeing for the acting and the history lesson; chances are you’ll really enjoy one of the acts.
- The Angry Brigade is playing until December 4th at The Backspace, Theatre Passe Muraille, (16 Ryerson Ave)
- Shows run Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 pm with a matinee on Wednesday at 1:30 pm and on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm
- Ticket prices range from $15.00 to $25.00
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.504.7529, and at the box office
Photo of Andrea Creighton, Matt Dawson, Cameron Sedgwick, and Lauren Saunders in The Angry Brigade by Jake Zabusky