Surprisingly, the United Kingdom have endured quite a few moments where poverty, homelessness, rising inequality, unemployment and industrial disputes have caused people to actively protest against the political powers of the time and in the 1970’s it occurred rather a lot. The Finborough Theatre’s production of Howard Brenton’s 1973 play, ‘Magnificence’ was an acceptable revival and poignant due to Brexit etc. moreover, the executions were modestly portrayed.
‘Magnificence’ is set in London, 1973 where we are habituated with five young activists who have sought refuge in an abandoned flat who are hell-bent at protesting against the political powers of the day. The activists consists of their leader, Jed, Cliff (Tyson Douglas), Mary, Veronica (Eva-Jane Wilkins)and Will (Will Bliss) and for all five of the group, it is integral for them to challenge how the social and political struggles are affecting the people of the United Kingdom; specifically the young men and women as they all envisage that their future is in jeopardy. Of course we see that some of the group have completely opposing views of their protest such as; Veronica thinking that some of Jed’s motives are pretty stupid. Over the course of the performance, the police are on to the group where the Constable and Slaughter (Chris Porter) are spying on the squat in which the activists are living in and due to this, they are planning to seize entry and arrest them. It appears that the group will resort to great lengths to prove their worth against government figures and it soon known that from Jed and Will that other protestors have been attacking MP’s and for this group in particular are making homemade bombs in that Jed will be responsible for the detonation of it. Throughout the performance, Mary becomes pregnant with Jed’s baby and when the Constable forces entry into the squat and in turn he hurts Mary rather forcefully and because of this, Mary loses the baby, as well as, the rest of the group are arrested and are sent to prison for some time. We the audience are soon transported on a different tale where ancient school teacher is wanting a bit of action with a student by the name of Babs (Hayward B Morse) in which the student obliges to. At the finale, Jed who has been released from prison and despite that he has supposedly reformed his behaviour and his hate for the powers to be and when he meets Alice, he loses his marbles and viscously punches him to the ground in his own back garden and Jed tries to use one of his old homemade bombs onto Alice himself so as you can see, Jed has not really learnt his lesson and that his protest is hardly working. Brenton’s narrative is satisfactory as yes we do understand what the group are attempting to protest about but what I did not really see was what was the conclusion of the initial protest and to be honest, was the scene with Jed and Alice truly necessary? You can be the judge of that yourself.
One found the performances by the company of, ‘Magnificence’ to be quite agreeable as they have captured the harshness of a group who had a plan, but then their plan of a riotous protest is soon prevented by a lovely stint in a prison cell (well not that lovely). Joel Gilman is good as leader of the group, Jed; predominantly how we see that he has a real desire to change the treatment of the people through radical methods, however, this becomes a load of nonsense and he is convicted of acts of terrorism and this is why he takes all over his bitterness of his failure onto an innocent man and this shows he may need to have some counselling. Daisy Hughes is adequate as Mary; especially how we see that just like Jed, she wants to make a difference but not as extreme and when she miscarries due to the Constable, she then comprehends that this fight against the government is not going to work and this fundamentally closes the door on her and Jed’s relationship and she has lost her baby because Jed would not stop. Tim Faulkner is tolerable as both Constable/Alice; mainly how as Alice we get to see a little vulnerability that is present in this play and his versatility to the Constable to someone who is of an authority figure allows you to see that this performer can be completely different and indicates that his training has been rather fruitful as his voice changes between the two diverse characters.
Josh Roche’s direction is plausible here as he has presented a decent revived production of a play that has not been performed for a long time and with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union it has an important statement as protests are obviously going to happen but hopefully not to the extent that Jed had organised, furthermore, the characterisations were congenial too as you get into the minds of the characters; largely from Jed. Phil Lindley’s design is amenable as for me, I liked how that in the squat the layers of ripped wallpaper suggests that the country and the world keeps moving forward and the other locations were helped with the pleasant lighting by Joe Price and soundscape by Hugh Sheehan which makes it more intriguing. Overall, the experience of, ‘Magnificence’ was an appropriate political play which actually has a number of moments that are related to contemporary issues such as Brexit.