views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Community
The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
3rd August 2017


Publicity image for The Community

Photography provided by The Community Ensemble

No one can quite remember why the Leader (Charlotte Bloomsbury) was elected, but there may have been some space sorcery involved. Don't question it. Especially not when her loyal sidekick Jerry (William Sebag-Montefiore) is in earshot. In this dystopian tale written by Gaël van den Bossche, members of The Community serve a greater purpose. It's not to reclaim the surface for themselves, that will never happen in their lifetime, but to keep the human race going until one day, some unknown future generation can do so instead. There are some very specific roles in this (literally underground) society, such as guarding all of the knowledge of their ancestors. It's not exactly the most riveting task for Paul (Simon Eile) and Jim (Ross Virgo), however they could have ended up on sewer duties. Everyone is a little cog in one medium-sized and infinitely depressing machine.

Mention of an uninhabitable surface, prescriptive rules with seemingly disproportionate punishments and severe resource rationing may put you in mind of American TV series The 100, but the tone of this piece has much more in common with the likes of Red Dwarf. Whilst post-apocalyptic futures have been explored countless times, rarely have they been done so brilliantly. There's something very darkly British about how van den Bossche captures the futility of surviving for survival's sake and laughs in the face of death. Although it's a entertaining hour-long piece with excellent pacing just the way it is, van den Bossche could easily flesh this out into a longer length production and I'd leap at the chance to revisit The Community, awful as it would be to actually live there.

The Leader is the most dangerous of comedy villains: she believes her own spiel. When challenged on end of life resource management by an impassioned Edith (Kim Hausler), the solution proposed by her 'R&D department' is so far-removed from anything acceptable that find yourself having to laugh. The thought that anyone could ever entertain it as a valid fix is too bleak to consider. As ridiculous and inconceivable as the Leader's actions are, we never sense she's doing anything out of malice: she genuinely believes her own insane press. Or should that be, Fake News? Again, we can't dwell on this too long - the only thing worse than an evil leader is an idiotic one. The belly laughs keep on coming.

Through a number of thought-provoking and humorous scenarios, van de Bossche asks the question, when does survival start to become meaningless? Linda (Christie Peto) and her husband Barnes (Andi Jashy) are chastised by a government official (Sebag-Montefiore) when they attempt to celebrate their son's birthday. Although Edith wants to preserve ethics, she would tell any lie to be free of her government-mandated husband David (Jashy). The logic behind no celebrations and arranged pairings is solid, however so are the individuals' reasons for objecting. On the outside looking in, we can understand both sides of the argument and it's unsettling to understand rules that we would personally hate to live by.

The Community is wickedly funny and taps into some very black humour. The highlight of the play is without a doubt the community choir, led into cheery song by conductor Mandy (Hausler). As dreadful as the lyrics are, they are utterly hilarious in context. Director Josh Hinds cleverly frames the commentary on human nature at the end in a way that doesn't make us feel manipulated, rather just very aware of how inevitable certain outcomes are. You really wouldn't want to live here, but The Community is an utter delight to watch.

The Community opened on 1st August and runs until 5th August 2017 at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Kentish Town (Northern)

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