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BWW Review: PROUD, Finborough Theatre, 18 July 2016

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Commissioned by the Finborough Theatre in its search for exciting new works from Canada, Proud is the European premiere of a satirical political play written by multi-award-winning Canadian playwright Michael Healey. It's the third in a trilogy of his plays centred around exploring Canadian values.

Proud begins shortly after the 2011 Canadian election, in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper is elected with his Conservative Party to form its first majority government. In a fictional twist, where Quebec is unexpectedly awash with new blue MPs, Healey's version of Stephen Harper (Nicholas Cass-Beggs) must quickly assess what he will actually do with his new intake. His Chief of Staff is Cary Baines, carried off with slick aplomb by Jude Monk McGowan, who backs his man to the hilt, whatever the personal cost.

Into the frame comes one such neophyte MP: feisty yet seemingly clueless single mother Jisbella Lyth, played by Emily Head. Healey quickly realises he can use her inexperience to his own advantage, making her the puppet figurehead of an anti-abortion bill to distract the press from his Privy Council reforms.

As the play develops, it quickly becomes clear to Healey that Jisbella is a lot more intelligent than she first appears, and so he swiftly moves to sets her up as his apprentice. The scene is then set for a rapid conflict of wills, where each challenges the other to confront their most basic principles and beliefs.

Nicholas Cass-Beggs is very convincing as the Prime Minister. From his hand gestures to his intonation and projection, he embodies the stance of the political elite.

Emily Head is wonderful as the foul-mouthed, indiscreet and sexually liberal Jisbella. As much as she relishes every arched eyebrow and slinky leg-crossing, there is also a beautifully understated vulnerability when it comes to references to her childhood and her own role as a mother.

The chemistry between Head and Cass-Beggs is flirtatious, but also often hilarious. Monk McGowan adds an interesting prop between them; adding his own twists to the mix. Under Jonny Kelly's direction, they all use every part of the limited space of the Finborough stage incredibly well. The intimacy of the venue only highlights every facial nuance and subtle gesture.

In a world where politics is often laid bare as a dirty business, Healey picks up very astutely on the public perception that politicians will do almost anything to further their own desires and ambitions. One particular scene, where the three pretend to argue loudly about the bill so the press can overhear, is both very funny and worryingly convincing.

The additional scenes, featuring a future where Jisbella's son (Will Firth) is a 24-year-old independent candidate, are the weaker parts of the play. There are also several esoteric references to Canadian politics and politicians, which may be a lot funnier to an audience who know who and what is actually being referred to.

Michael Healey has created a very thought-provoking satirical play, which deftly captures the reasons behind the current mood of public mistrust for politicians more than ever. This is as relevant today in the UK as it was in Canada back in 2011. Proud is full of profanity, wit and political insight, artfully portrayed by a cracking cast.

Box Office: 0844 847 1652, www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Picture Credit: Venus Raven


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