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Review: MORAL PANIC, Riverside Studios

Review: MORAL PANIC, Riverside Studios

Bitesize Festival is back at Riverside Studios with a brilliant line-up, including this macabre, laugh-out-loud comedy.

Review: MORAL PANIC, Riverside Studios Review: MORAL PANIC, Riverside Studios It's a turbulent time in 1984 England. The nation is trapped between the Conservative jaws of Thatcher's Tories and Charles Hawthorn is fighting the growing problem of morally corrupt horror films.

A member of the British Board of Film Classification, he sits and watches so-called "nasties" all day long, brandishing the metaphorical scissors before the movies are approved for the public. He is ruthless. The horrific details of his job fascinate his wife, Susan, who demurely fishes for the dirtiest scenes over dinner.

But his moral high ground conceals a repressed and almost dictatorial vein in the husband and father, whose indignation explodes when the appointment of a foreign female censor is made. Typical office gossip leads the way to amusing pettiness and a faint political critique in Stuart Warwick's Moral Panic, a macabre, lough-out-loud comedy staged at Riverside Studios as part of Bitesize Festival.

Performed by Jack Cooper, the play is a hilarious, multilayered morsel of theatre with an enticing, delectable script sprinkled with dad jokes and served with all the inflections of an idealised 80s patriarch. In 50 minutes, Warwick treats his audience to a twisted tale.

Snarky and judgemental behind a plush moustache, with an arch delivery he maintains the intellectual superiority of the members of the board as well as their imperviousness to the immoral content they consume. The people in his life are cartoonish sides to his monologue.

Susan: his uninteresting and insecure subordinate wife with plenty of secrets. His colleague Anne: a gossiping spinster. His boss James: the outgoing head of the board who seems to have lost the plot. Veronica: the latest lascivious recruit who threatens his position and the nation's morality.

While the text is polished and Cooper's performance is spotless, a few longer blackout scene changes in the second half stumble the comedic pace. Compared to the earlier crisp, quick shifts that move Charles along the timeline with drastic cuts in lighting and unrelated body language, these arrest the seamless flow previously built.

Still, the show is remarkably entertaining and subtly political. It speaks of the legacy of a Conservative government and its fear of progress, how repression and a perceived need for censorship go hand in hand; how suppression contributes to shocking exploits, and of how the conversation around visual media is ever-growing and yet still the same.

While the running time of the piece might hint at a potential expansion to a full-length play where the topic would be explored in more detail, the plot and characters are fully formed and unquestionably enthralling. As it is, it's a impeccably contained pitch black comedy that only needs minor adjustments to achieve greatness.

Moral Panic runs at Riverside Studios until 10 July as part of Bitesize Festival.

From This Author - Cindy Marcolina