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Theatre Review Brighton revolutionaries seize the day

JOE GILL is hooked by an urgent imagined rehearsal of what attempting to overthrow capitalism might look like

Unchain Me
DreamThinkSpeak
Brighton Festival

 

IF REVOLUTION in 2022 is anything like dreamthinkspeak’s Unchain Me, it will involve technical hiccups with tablets, waiting in the rain, and lots of flights of stairs.

In an immersive, intense plunge into a clandestine struggle against the powers that be in Brighton and Britain, groups of audience members are invited to join “the campaign” and to help overthrow the system.

Based loosely on Dostoevsky’s The Devils, the piece by Tristan Sharps (who is also Brighton Festival co-director this year) is an urgent imagined rehearsal of what attempting to overthrow capitalism might look like.

Our guide (a sympathetic Azaan Symes) took us to a room above the Theatre Royal and told us how the death of his father at the hands of a mugger eventually brought him into the struggle. The group he joined wanted to replace our broken parliamentary system with a form of direct democracy in which the people genuinely rule.

Each group leader has his own story and reason for joining the cause. After inducting us, he took us on a cat and mouse tour of the Brighton “estate,” followed by undercover cops, as he and his comrade Denzel (authentic and convincing Tatenda Madamombe) prepared for the big showdown with the “governess.”

One of the side benefits of the piece was to find yourself in the backrooms of the Pavilion estate and museum, where splendid Victorian panelled rooms became the stage for our group’s frantic preparations. We witness and take part in the shenanigans (carrying boxes, revealing a spy), which is fun, if a bit hard to follow.

Hayley, at first pretending to be a follower, reveals herself as a police officer pursuing the group. She warns us off joining them and their crazed leader, Lucas, the aristocratic loser turned revolutionary (who happens to be the brother of the estate owner).

A gun once drawn must be used, said Chekhov. And so in the final scene we are taken to a grand dining room inside the courthouse and seated for a soiree with the governess herself, as she tries to placate her brother’s comrades in the room with PR platitudes.

The young militants fire back angrily, demolishing her soft soaping with facts about poverty, bad housing and the estate’s wealth borne from the slave trade. Outside a crowd of protesters is gathering. Lucas pulls a gun.

All of this is a metaphor for the dilemmas faced by any anti-system movement, and it is drawn in bold dramatic moments and monologues. Should revolution be peaceful? Can we replace our elite-controlled political system with direct democracy? I didn’t want to leave this group of ardent young people. I was hooked.

It appears Unchain Me has faced a backlash from the reviewers and chattering classes. So be it. The audience is older and middle class like most theatre crowds. But the real audience might be the homeless men just outside the courthouse getting wet in the rain.

Until Sun June 12 2022. Box office: 01273 709709 / brightonfestival.org

 

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