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Camarilla proves a blast until its preposterous final moments



Review by Paul Nelson

WITH the present government and their brazening out of their (to me obvious) error in declaring a war designed to sanctify their leader, we should all know and heed the word 'camarilla'.

It means a group of advisers, especially a secretive group advising an important person.

The play, Camarilla, now at The Old Red Lion, doesn't quite give us such a sharp focus on the word, but it presents us with some strong writing from a major hand that makes the evening, for the most part, an event in which to rejoice.

She also gives a postscript in the programme, which is frankly chilling.

With strong political argument for causes past and present, the play not only gives dialogue that is a joy to hear, but actually, to hold your attention it begins with a bang. It unfortunately ends on a whimper, but I will come to that.

It used to be a maxim in the world of comedy writing that when the writer was bogged down by the sequence of events in his sketch, he would blow up everybody. Indeed, there was a television soap opera that the BBC put on air (which I doubt they would now own to, and I also doubt few can remember) when the serial ended with the entire thing being literally exploded.

Here we have three explosions, all politically motivated, though where the real explosions should occur, between the characters, there remain but a few squibs.

Maggy has been a political activist since Greenham Common, and has involved herself in as many protest groups she can lay hands on ever since.

As such she is a well-known public intellectual. She is, as you would expect, strident and acts on impulse. I need hardly mention she is an Aussie, and, I hate to mention Germaine Greer, but I wish that Maggy too had spent her later years writing a countrywoman's diary.

She is married to John, a firm trade unionist, the pair producing a Sixties dream, a present day nightmare (I write this as a Socialist).

Maggy has a daughter from her first marriage, Rebekah, John, from his first marriage, a son, David.

Presumably, Rebekah's name is spelt in the Biblical manner because, like her namesake, she is beautiful but not a passive woman.

David, a lawyer, also has Biblical connections to his name, for royalty read media company, and don't forget Goliath. I may be reading too much into this, but if a writer is asking to be heard these references must be acknowledged.

Maggy's character is heralded by John saying "The Kraken wakes" on the phone, as Maggy, refusing to lie down after being concussed in the first explosion, enters in a rage over a newspaper article.

As I mentioned, the play opens with a bang.

A terrorist bomb has exploded in Bond Street, where Maggy and Rebekah have been shopping.

They sustain minor injuries but the event has a traumatic effect on Maggy, who sees the whole thing as a lucky escape for herself and particularly her daughter, cut by flying glass.

John cannot calm her down and plays the devoted husband to the hilt until she discovers that David is coming from America to stay and John has agreed that he should stay in their home.

David had broken his journey from Chicago in New York because a friend of his had perished in the World Trade Centre 9/11 event. He and Rebekah hit it off and all looks smooth until …

Until the play becomes completely melodramatic.

Bluntly, the shit hits the fan when Maggy accuses David of plotting to break up her and John's marriage because he believes she broke up his mother's marriage to John.

Maggy contradicts this by revealing that John had shagged just about everybody in the office, the Party, on the street, you name where, and she was somehow a stabilising influence.

David tells Rebekah he does not want to sleep with her, she was hoping he would and slaps him. David leaves for America and I will tell you no more of the plot.

Whilst I suggest you go and find out for yourself, I must add, it is hard to empathise with a play where every character either is, or is believed to be, a shit.

I do think a play with three terrorists' bombs, a suicide bomber, a crumbling double second marriage, a character suffering from cancerous lymphoma and after an attempted murder an onstage suicide, is asking too much of an audience within seventy or so minutes.

On the credit side, the dialogue is really robust and brisk, what the author needs here is a more credible plot.

The third bomb demolishes the hall where Maggy is to make her most important speech in years; the second bomb demolishes the Telegraph offices, presumably (I add this as an afterthought) because they have just increased the price of the paper by 5p, for the second time in two years.

Until the last 15 minutes or so, I really enjoyed the play, the four excellent performers and the direction.

The events of the last 15 are so preposterous they wipe the previous 60.

The message for me is lock up your daughters, they are no more to be trusted than the men around them.

Camarilla by Van Badham, Directed by George Perrin, Design Stefanie Rhodes, Lighting Ric Mountjoy, Sound Lee Wilson. WITH: Lois Norman (Maggy), David Farrington (John), Caroline O'Kerr (Rebekah), and David Abeles (David, Charles Ashe). Produced by nabokov in association with The Old Red Lion Theatre at The Old Red Lion, St John's Street, Islington, London EC1. Tickets 020 7837 7816.

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