The Unthinkable, Crucible Studio, Sheffield
Tuesday 02 November 2004
The playwright Steve Waters has a refreshing willingness to embrace contemporary life. In World Music it was the effect of the complex relationship between Africa and Europe on successive generations. Now, in The Unthinkable, he has returned to the the political backdrop of a previous play, English Journey, to present a well-defined picture of the progress of the five founder members of the radical think-tank Polis.
In Josie Rourke's adept production, on the enclosed bare stage of the Crucible Studio, their lives unfold, through flashback, in a whirlwind of words, acutely observed character portrayals and tensely ambiguous relationships. Since their Oxford student days, when plans were feverishly hatched and their youthful visions and ambitions took root, much has happened. Now they've come together, "idealists reunited", to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the founding of Polis.
From their first, tentative meeting in 1984, and then, five years on, when Polis becomes a reality, there's a palpable excitement as the group members gradually realise that they can think the unthinkable. Added to the volatile mix is Patrick, the manipulative MP and New Labour apparatchik, a role Nigel Cooke plays for all its worth, bringing to it the look of Jeffrey Archer and the speech mannerisms of Peter Mandelson.
In 2004, as international movers and shakers gather at the Polis headquarters in a remote Derbyshire farmhouse in the shadow of Kinder Scout, a public demonstration against capitalism is on the move outside, rumbling ever more loudly. But that's not the only cloud on the horizon. Public life impinges on private, past catches up with present, people have changed, and the anonymous circulation of documents relating to the group's past unsettles them all, threatening to unseat Ollie, engagingly played by Jo Stone-Fewings, now the new MP for South Yorkshire.
Well performed and neatly topical, The Unthinkable embraces many big ideas, global and local, philosophical and political, as well as personal. As a vision of how our media-fostered politics and under-scrutinised public life work, it's uncomfortably tenable. The women create the more interesting, revelatory characters: Katherine Parkinson, the strident activist Fran, whose concern for human rights and justice for all leads her into dangerous territory, and Susannah Wise as the clever, working-class Maggie, the straight-talking head of Polis. The male roles, though less well defined, are coloured with ingenuity and wit.
Waters writes with particular perceptiveness about the complexities of remaining true to one's beliefs in the reality of the unreal political world. However, perhaps because of the number of issues raised and the head- spinning speed with which they're tossed around, unanswered questions are left hanging in the air.
To 13 November (0114-249 6000)
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 3 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 4 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 5 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson 'can't front ITV motoring show' due to BBC contract clause
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts