saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
The Domestic Extremists
17th February 2015
Photography provided by The Space
The name may have changed from Why Should Anyone? but the script of The Domestic Extremists remains instantly recognisable. This is the same production we saw last summer at The Space, but with more polish. In Dan Davies's deeply political tale, daytime king and one-time documentary-maker Christopher (Jonathan Leinmuller) is at his desk, when wannabe director Chloe (Nicola Dalziel) - note, not an intern - wanders in and tries to secure his help in saving the world through her craft. Initially he isn't interested, but Chloe's persistence, enthusiasm and apparent respect for his earlier work is irresistibly flattering, and he agrees to mentor her, securing a commission from colleague Toby (Michael Roy Andrew) and preparing her for her first undercover assignment. Chloe befriends civil servant Tabitha (Sadie Parsons) and student protestor Roz (also Parsons), secretly collecting footage and hoping for her big break.
When we first meet Christopher, Leinmuller delivers a calm and self-assured performance, contrasting against Dalziel's overexcited, fresh-faced naive and flapping Chloe. He's not just older, but he's far more experienced in the media, knowing to discard Chloe's worst ideas and fleshing out and reworking the ones with more potential. She sees him as stifling her passion, but he's a worthy ally, and one she really needs behind her. There's an interesting dynamic established from the get go - it's not romantic or parental, but Chloe definitely intrigues Christopher. He sees a spark - maybe on some level, she reminds him of himself at her age - and he feels compelled to take a risk on her and just help for the sake of helping.
Christopher's kindness, Chloe's ambition, Toby's fear of getting it wrong - there's an emotional complexity to the main characters which rounds them out into people we can understand, if not condone. In this tale of corruption, there's inevitably betrayal and in this run, it feels genuine and raw in a way it didn't quite in the previous staging. You can relate to all sides, and that's what makes it so hard-hitting.
However, it doesn't take long before Leinmuller transforms into a David Brent-esque figure, twitching and gurning inappropriately. You do get used to this and accept this behaviour as part of the character's quirks, but toning it down would prevent the delivery from occasionally distracting us from the actual story as it slowly unravels in front of us. The ideas are sharply political, and details are drip-fed so that we can figure out who are the real heroes and villains - resulting in some wry laughs from the audience following certain reveals - but it doesn't quite feel fast-paced enough for this to be a thriller and that genre seems the natural fit for the plot. I'm still not sure how I feel about Parsons's use of street language as one of the protestors (faultless but cringey, you get me?), but you can't fault her commitment or slick execution. Parsons is the only surviving actor from the Script 6 festival, playing multiple characters and switching between them with ease. She slides on and off a pair of glasses and she's instantly someone else. Whatever niggles I had the first time round with her separating out roles have been dealt with - Parsons navigates a range of emotions and accents effortlessly. Watching her transition between Roz and Tabitha should almost be a showreel, demonstrating her versatility.
Ben Borowiecki showed some truly promising ideas in the rehearsed reading, which have now been fully realised. One television has multiplied like rabbits, with the set now housing piles of them at either side, constantly reminding us that this is a play about the media and the pervasive impact it has. It also allows Borowiecki to show us live footage of the students and officials giving their side whilst being interviewed by Chloe. This clever design is very nicely done, but ends up being overused. It's immediately striking and has an emotional as well as visual impact, but the longer it goes on for, the more it's repeated - and we want to hear the other half of the conversation. We want to hear what Chloe is saying to provoke their statements and although Parsons is indeed performing live for us, depending on where you're sat, you may not realise that, as she's obscured.
The themes of this play will chill you, no matter what your leanings - with Davies deliberately writing something which is undeniably political, but universal too. It's a thought-provoking script, which could be still tightened further. If you want your theatre to do more than merely entertain you - to challenge you and make you look around at the world - this is gripping, highly recommended stuff.
The Domestic Extremists opened on 10th February and runs until 28th February 2015 at The Space.
Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)