Thursday, 17 August 2017

Theatre review: The Majority

Although the current policy at the Dorfman is not to play shows in rep, Mosquitoes gets a bit of a break as another show uses its in-the-round set to tell a different kind of story – although there’s still buzzing insects involved, as The Majority’s design (by Jemima Robinson) features a lot of bees and honeycomb motifs. It’s the latest play by Rob Drummond, aka that bloke I shot that time, who keeps an audience participation element but spreads it out equally this time: The last few years have been marked by hugely impactful votes on binary, not always well-defined choices, and this is the structure The Majority is based around. As with the recent Terror, every audience member is given a keypad which will record their vote on a number of yes/no questions posed by Drummond. Most of them will serve to give an idea of the audience’s moral position but a couple will affect where his story goes and how it’s told.

Drummond is Scottish, but didn’t vote in the Scottish independence referendum, and we follow his attempts to become less apathetic about politics and discover if he can actually make a difference.

In his programme note he explains that all his past work has focused on much more intimate, personal stories, and this is his attempt to engage with something a bit bigger. But the way he goes about it still focuses on a single person – Eric, a lifelong activist he meets the day after the independence vote, and whom he latches onto in an attempt to understand some of that passion for social justice and perhaps inspire some of it in himself. Eric is evidently a bit of a crank (and a beekeeper, hence the design theme,) who sees Nazis with a personal vendetta against him around every corner, but his passion comes from a real place and strikes a chord with Rob – where they’re always likely to differ though is on how far you should be prepared to go for your beliefs.

The play’s format suggests a kind of choose-your-own adventure story, and the audience vote does determine some practical things – like whether latecomers should be allowed in or whether there should be a short toilet break before the final act (yes and no respectively.) In terms of the story itself there’s one obvious moment where the audience vote decides what we hear (and, to my surprise, curiosity didn’t win out tonight, leaving part of the story untold) but for the most part the votes during the course of the show are variations on the Trolley Problem, addressing an ethical quandary Rob has reached at that part of his story. There may be something in the mechanics of the show that means these results determine what information we’re given next, but if so it’s not particularly obvious.

So David Overend’s production ends up being a fairly linear story with the voting gimmick occasionally turning up, something that’s even more apparent when the action turns to Eric and Rob protesting against a neo-Nazi march; if the story really wasn’t that set in stone, it feels as if recent events in America would have at least merited a mention. So the USP doesn’t end up working in quite as crucial a way as the publicity suggests, and I didn’t really get the feeling that every night’s performance is that different to the one before. What the gimmick does do is shine an interesting light on where a liberal audience draws a line in the sand; and the human story underneath it all still comes across as Drummond’s real strength after all, making for an interesting evening of storytelling with a little bit of a twist.

The Majority by Rob Drummond is booking until the 28th of August at the National Theatre’s Dorfman.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through (unless the audience votes for a pee break, in which case I guess it’ll be a few minutes longer.)

Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz.

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