For the first few minutes of The Angry Brigade, James Graham‘s play about the anarchists who disrupted Britain in the early 1970s, I thought we were watching a Python sketch.
A bumbling police commander, whose conversation revolved around tea and biscuits, plus the odd “nudge-nudge, wink-wink,” was spearheading a new unit to infiltrate and stop a new kind of threat – the political terrorist and the “enemy within.”
But, actually, the tone was just right, for the subject matter.
Paines Plough and Theatre Royal Plymouth have come up with a production that is as entertaining as it is informative.
The audience at last night’s opening at Watford Palace Theatre really rather enjoyed this story of a very British and bumbling version of terrorism. Baader-Meinhof they were not.
The Angry Brigade were a foursome of expensively-educated political activists who thought they were going to change the world by blowing off the doors to a minister’s house or bombing Biba.
They were later described by one of their own as more the “slightly-cross brigade.”
The gang, part of the Stoke Newington Eight, wanted to bring about change and the downfall of the establishment.
So they flour-bombed Miss World (and Bob Hope in the process) and set off a number of small bombs which caused minor damage and one slight injury.
The thriller opens with a group of hapless cops being recruited by a police chief more interested in the art of dunking than catching bombers.
It was all very PC Plod – until the team’s boss, Det Con Smith, cracked the pattern of their targets and another hit upon the anarchists’ identities.
The play is very much a game of two halves, the first Act concentrating on the four police officers hunting their prey and the second on the Brigade’s story.
Surprisingly the drama’s 15 characters were all played by a cast of just four.
Harry Melling is a real find. He started off his career as a fat schoolboy, Dudley Dursley, in the Harry Potter franchise.
But, my, how he’s changed.
While the world’s press still dote on the holy trinity of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, Harry has grown up, slimmed down, and applied himself to becoming a proper, grown-up, actor – and, as it turns out, arguably, the most talented of the Potter brats.
He’s worked for some of the country’s top theatre producers in major productions as well as a raft of leading parts in a number of BBCTV series.
In The Angry Brigade he quick-changes from police chief, to sardonic detective, a gay bombing victim, and a trio of terrorists, each a rounded character in their own right.
Felix Scott, Patsy Ferran and Scarlett Alice Johnson take the remaining roles in James Grieve’s nicely-paced, and occasionally surreal, plot.
The Angry Brigade runs at Watford Palace Theatre until Saturday.