Review: The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace Theatre

“We are slowly destroying the long tentacles of the state machine…”

You gotta love a playtext that starts with a communiqué from the author and that’s just what James Graham does with The Angry Brigade. Split into two parts, The Branch, which sees a Special Branch team trying to catch a Baader-Meinhof type group of British terrorists, and The Brigade which sees them their attempts to avoid capture, Graham offers up a world of interpretation in how they might be played, ending with the slyly anarchic note “perhaps just do what you like”.

James Grieve’s production for Paines Plough plays The Branch first – following the police investigation into bombs that have been left in strategic locations like the Royal Albert Hall and the home of a government minister. A special unit is set up to try and get into the minds of what turns out to be a group of homegrown anarchists by following (some of) their example. It’s really rather funny and Harry Melling’s biscuit dunking is something I will cherish for life!

The Brigade takes us into the world of the group and unpicks their credo for rebellion, revealing a world of heavy unemployment and swingeing cuts leading to great disillusionment in which the flame of youthful idealism has to be nurtured. The way that it has gone though is a little unpredictable and more than a little bit recognisable in the current climate and the intensity of the foursome is quite remarkable as the net around them draws ever tighter.

Melling and Felix Scott are excellent as the two lead cops, and their transformation into the young’uns of the Brigade is nothing short of miraculous, barely recognisable as the same actors. Patsy Ferran and Scarlett Alice Johnson are in more of multi-roling supporting capacity for the first act, and impressively so, but are allowed to bloom in the second act in the stripped back aesthetic of Lucy Osborne’s design and its bomb blasts. Intriguing stuff indeed and hopefully this won’t be the last we hear of this play if Paines Plough can be tempted into a London theatre with it.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 25th October

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