The Schuman Plan, Hampstead Theatre, London

By Paul Taylor
Thursday 09 February 2006 01:00

There aren't many people who'd freely admit that it was a passion for Euro-pop that first made them want to define themselves as European or that puzzlement at our national prejudice against it stirred an abiding interest in Britain's anti-European bent.

Nothing that Luscombe has produced before quite prepares us, though, for his latest play, The Schuman Plan, which is premiered now in Anthony Clark's absorbing production. Though it's often sharply funny, there's nothing frivolous about this piece, which takes its name from the French Foreign Minister's 1950 scheme to secure peace through the creation of a coal and steel community.

Spanning 70 years, from the Thirties to the present day, the play is an intelligent and intricate attempt to explore the contradictions and shifts in our response to the European Ideal.

The thread that holds it together is the career of an invented character, Bill Bretherton (Robert Hands), the son of a Suffolk fisherman who becomes a protégé of Captain Edward Heath (an excellent Simon Robson) while serving under him during the war.

As he rises through the ranks of the post-war Civil Service (first as a federalist during the Attlee administration and later as Heath's private secretary), Bill grows increasingly disillusioned. In one of the best scenes, which shows Heath fielding a phone call from the Norwegian prime minister while dressing to conduct a concert, it becomes clear that Bill's employer is prepared secretly to surrender the rights of English fishermen rather than falter at the final hurdle of taking the country into Europe.

The play oscillates between episodes that chart Bill's disenchantment (there's a very funny sequence on a Sicilian farm in which he's forced at gunpoint to accede to gross CAP corruption) and moving scenes among the fishermen, destitute because of EU directives, in Suffolk in 1992. It's the final irony that Bill, the local boy and visionary, returns home as the jobsworth Maff official detailed to supervise the destruction of the boats.

To 25 February (020-7722 9301)

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