Boiling Frogs, Southwark Playhouse, London

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The Independent Culture

It was an inauspicious start when an audience member spilled a glass of red wine down the back of playwright Steven Bloomer before the curtain was even up on the opening night of his new play, Boiling Frogs.

Experimental troupe The Factory have received high praise from the likes of Ewan McGregor and Mark Rylance for their innovative pop-up performances in underground venues. But this, its first full-length play in a theatre, hit a discordant note.

Boiling Frogs, inspired by the picnic protests held in Parliament Square between 2005 and 2007, presents itself as an examination of the erosion of civil liberties in Britain. The set is an abstract black and white interrogation room in the bowels of a London police station, drawn by street artist Pochoir.

Three men find themselves incarcerated in this room: Mark (Tristan Beint), an idealist banged up for staging a fancy-dress picnic protest; George (a laudable Paul Sharma), arrested because he went to the picnic dressed like a terrorist; and Tom ( Alan Morrissey), a community-support officer who took his duty of law too far.

The subject matter is the stifling of public dissent and the contravention of human rights through special police powers. But the play addresses this in hackneyed terms. It may have been first-night nerves, but the acting fell flat and the pace misstepped.

The dialogue pivots between earnestness and satire, stopping the audience from responding emotionally. Even its titular analogy, the boiling frogs, is a clanger: "If you put a frog in boiling water it'll jump out and save itself. But if you put it in cool water and turn up the heat it will wait to die."

There were some redeeming features – the offstage sound effects, the stylised boiler suits – but the audience, sitting on uncomfortable seats, was unengaged throughout.

To 2 October (020 7407 0234)