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Guest review: Scandaltown, Lyric Hammersmith - 'a bingo board of Twitter hashtags'

The last 24 months have been pandemonium, writes Aceil Haddad, events have been dramatic and satirical. Coupled with the ludicrous nature of social media, you’d think you'd have plenty to script. Except it doesn't quite work in Mike Bartlett's play Scandaltown.

Scandaltown lyric hammersmith official artwork

This adult-pantomime-meets-Blackadder approach does muster a handful of laughs, though more interesting is seeing who laughs when.

Bartlett explores many topics in his topsy turvy play; it’s a bingo board of Twitter hashtags - on par with Just Like That - exploring #capitalism #LGBTQ+ #Partygate #likeforlike #snowflakes.

Bartlett is trying to explore the hypocrisy of the righteous left and the entitled right, demonstrating the similarities of these superficially opposite positions; whilst navigating the role of power and influence in today’s world.

Concepts well worth exploring, certainly, and the theatre is a great place to do this, but at times the play felt lazy, the dialogue inauthentic, and the RP accent exhausting.

One of the greatest issues we are facing as a society is ‘us vs them’, which takes many guises; north vs south, doers vs sayers, left vs right, but there is no resolution.

A theme on which the play makes much mileage is that of the ‘London Elite’ from  Z-list ‘celebs’ trying to stay relevant to the ‘virtuous anti-capitalist' entitled flat sharers living in the likes of Brixton and failing to acknowledge the gentrification they themselves are partaking in.

However, hanging in the air unaddressed is the sense of the irony inherent in the play itself, considering the shameless elitism so often apparent in the theatre. If it wasn’t for Bartlett’s reputation… would it have even been put on? Is the irony lost?

I enjoyed Matthew Broome’s 'Jack Virtue' character; both he and Aysha Kala 'Hannah Tweetwell' were the most comfortable on stage and in their characters. 

That said, the stage could have been more fun, the Chicago-bar silhouette was the best bit as it felt quite bare (without making a point of being so). The costume designs are also fun but again could have been elevated to reflect the nature of the topic. 

What I did enjoy was the diversity of the audience, if this maintains itself, Bartlett really will have achieved something novel but will this persist beyond press night?


Scandaltown, Lyric Hammersmith

Written by Mike Bartlett

Directed by Rachel O'Riordan

Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes

Booking until 14 May; for more details and tickets, hop over to the Lyric's website.

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A big thanks to Aceil for stepping in to review while I'm off with Covid.