In the Big House Theatre’s latest play Politrix, the embers of the London riots are still glowing.
This punchy piece of theatre, directed by Maggie Norris, explores the widening gulf between the halls of parliament and a swathe of inner-city youth once branded a “feral underclass” by its members.
With the exception of Ben Lambert who plays Conservative politician CJ, all the cast members are part of Big House Theatre’s 12-week drama programme aimed at getting care leavers from the ages of 18-23 involved in theatre.
The plot follows a Tory MP dragging a group of six young people on a whistlestop Westminster tour. Verbatim recordings of the cast’s own trip to the House of Commons are woven into Ben Musgrave’s script, making their voices audible above the legislators that claim to speak for them.
Determined to use the occasion to her advantage, Monroe (Camilla Ferdinand) asks CJ for help in getting her brother out of prison where he was sent for being present at the scene of a gang murder – a joint enterprise conviction.
He dithers before declining. “You saw me come in here with my bag of dog-eared papers and you thought: fuck”, she accuses him scornfully.
For Monroe’s friends, the environment of pomp and privilege is oppressive, and the halls of power morph into a dystopian house of horrors.
An ashen-faced Margaret Thatcher (another turn for Lambert, now in drag) rises from the dead and attacks Leo (Shane Cameron) and Wendy (Nadège René) for being a product of the ‘something for nothing’ culture of the welfare state.
Soldiers march past and security guards perform the rituals of stop and search. Authority is everywhere they turn. Respite is found in the chapel where kindred spirits lurk, suffragettes and revolutionaries, whose tales help to soothe the young friends’ jangled nerves.
With its concrete floors and high ceiling, the all-new Hackney Showroom is an ambitious space and the acoustics are tricky to control – ironic in a play about the struggles of being heard.
But the cast rises to the challenge and it would be hard to pick out a standout performance from the wealth of fresh young talent on display. From the entertaining Fizz (Auzelina Pinto) to the angry K (Moses Gomes-Santos), each character has formidable presence.
After the play I ask 22-year-old Kieran Roach, who gives an affecting performance as the quiet Rico, about the anger that runs throughout the piece. “It’s not anger, it’s frustration,” he gently corrects me, “frustration that we are not being listened to”.
Politrix gives a voice to those who were the collateral of the 2011 chaos. For politicians puzzling over how to build bridges with Britain’s youth it should be compulsory viewing.
Politrix is at Hackney Showroom, Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT until 11 April.