Review: CONTEMPT, VAULT Festival

An exciting political monologue that could be more contextually sound.

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Show of the Week: Tickets From £30 for WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTIONCatherine is the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. The youngest ever, a first-generation immigrant, and an underdog at Oxford, her dreams to find like-minded individuals in government are obviously shattered the moment she gets the job.

When she's invited to an exclusive party that will be attended by all her peers, her mum prepares her with cue cards on each of them. "Know the shame, know the Brit," she says. James Boyd explores the underbelly of British politics, uncovering how deals happen in Westminster and painting a raw, bleak picture of the ruling class.

While the writing is gripping and Gabrielle Nellis-Pain's performance is excellent, there's something missing. Catherine's colleagues are ancient ghosts floating through hallowed corridors as she puts on a sleazy, raspy voice to portray them against her well-spoken main character. They burn money, exchange favours, speak of their rightful legacy or their alcoholism all the same. The monologue has the intensity of House of Cards, but lacks a solid foundation.

The party is an increasingly more nightmarish, cult-y experience for Catherine. Quick blackouts move her along the timeline, but the links between the events described by Boyd are so fast that it's slightly difficult to gather the full account. He describes the anger that pervades these men, their daddy issues, the loathing they feel towards a range of people, almost humanising them. It's engaging and thoroughly fascinating, but the production locks the audience out of its contextual information.

Boyd dips his toes into the political aspect of his characters but doesn't take the plunge. The stakes seem too low for the potential of the play. He is an exquisite writer and Nellis-Pain makes his script hers. Vivid descriptions give way to a disquieting glimpse into the emotional sphere of these politicians. Contempt is exciting, but falls short when the groundwork of its dynamics is analysed.

The show features a wonderful score by Bradley Farmer comprised by original numbers that sit between sacred music and eerie chants. It adds solemnity to Nellis-Pain's emotive, fierce delivery and creates a unique atmosphere for Boyd's story. This iteration of the play is a remarkable springboard.

Further work on the real aim of the piece will also place it more than only a step away from an apologia for privilege. As it is, it comes off as a big "it is what it is" preceded by a razor-sharp critique - which we suspect isn't what Boyd wants. A stronger grip on politics and a deeper examination of the framework that surrounds Catherine's role will definitely make it a hard-hitting, perceptive commentary on the state of the Kingdom.

VAULT Festival has been left without a venue for next year. You can contribute to the #SaveVAULT campaign here.


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From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina... (read more about this author)



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