Review: Has the Young Vic produced a version of The Cherry Orchard I can finally appreciate?
Review: Fringe First winner Spine, Soho Theatre

Review: James Graham's The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace Theatre

Paines Plough's production of The Angry Brigade, photo by Richard Davenport

Harry Melling's police chief is vigorously swirling a biscuit in his cup of tea. It is small act of rebellion from a man who's wife, he tells his colleague, doesn't like him 'dunking' and marks one end of the spectrum of rebellion that is explored in The Angry Brigade.

The title of James Graham's new play refers to a real life group who in 1971 were Britain's answer to Germany's Baader Meinhof and France's 1st of May guerrilla groups. It was a period of youth-led discontent with bombing campaigns and protests about authority, class divide and capitalism. 

Graham says he was inspired by the ignited passions to protest seen in more recent years, a stark contrast to the apathy of his 30-something generation when they were at University. Passion for a cause is something that shines through on both sides of the narrative.

The first act follows the police investigation into a spate of bombings of political figures, public buildings and retailers. The police are at first baffled by the anonymity of the group calling themselves The Angry Brigade and it becomes a cat and mouse game to identify them.

In the second half the story is seen through the eyes of The Angry Brigade themselves as they set up operations from a flat in Stoke Newington.

Despite exploring events of more than 40 years ago you can't help draw parallels with contemporary issues. It is a depressing undertone but one that doesn't resonate fully until after the play is over.

Graham and director James Grieve take you on a journey that is laced with humour, fun and inventiveness. The police may represent order and law but the biscuit dunking is just the start. Those tasked with investigating The Angry Brigade are encouraged to forget the usual rules of workplace formality, banter and teasing ensues.

On Twitter I asked Graham if the playful humour in the first half was an act of rebellion in itself to which he replied: "Humour as a weapon has always intrigued me. Certainly think it shows resistance to expectations/the status quo..."

In the second half the Brigade playfully break into song; snatches of 70s advertising jingles and patriotic tunes like Jerusalem. They strip the house they are living in back to basics so there are no barriers, no where to hide, symbolically burning their identities in the toilet which now stands exposed in the middle of the room, its walls removed. 

As the police investigators get closer to identifying and capturing their prey euphoria creeps in and traditional reserve and social etiquette break down further. The investigation room becomes more chaotic, more visual in its gathering of clues and evidence. 

Within the Angry Brigade's ranks there is a slow move towards order and normality; a desire for something abandoned. Their bomb explosions are marked by metal filing cabinets being slammed together, they become more frequent as if fast fowarding to the inevitable.

The four cast members - Melling is joined by Patsy Ferran, Scarlett Alice Johnson and Felix Scott - play all the parts and watching their range of performances adds to the fun and pace of the piece.

Anarchic in theme and often anarchic in its execution The Angry Brigade is a youthful, lively and fresh piece of theatre that entertains and provokes.

Hurry along to the Watford Palace Theatre and catch it while you can, it finishes this Saturday (25 Oct).

Other plays by James Graham I've enjoyed:

Privacy, Donmar Warehouse, 2014

This House, 2012

The Man, Finborough Theatre, 2010

And Harry Melling performances I've particularly enjoyed:

The Hot House, Trafalgar Studios, 2013

I Am Camera, Southwark Playhouse, 2012

When Did You Last See My Mother, 2011

Women Beware Women, National Theatre, 2010


Two nice connections. James Graham wrote Privacy in which Joshua McGuire appeared and he's worked with Mr W in The Hour. And Harry Melling (always a joy to watch) was in Merlin with Colin Morgan who was in Mojo.