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Review: The Independent Socialist Republic of... at Royal Court Studio ***

If a week is deemed a long time in politics, then the five years since parts of the traditional northern Red Wall ‘turned blue’ is surely a millennium.

Even then, Liverpool remained resolutely red. In fact, it’s 60 years since the city last returned a Conservative MP – in political terms, that’s positively prehistoric.

So of all the many improbable moments in Lawrence Quilty’s gleefully dark political farce being premiered on the Royal Court Studio stage, the idea of a Labour MP being ousted from a Liverpool seat is surely the most unlikely.

No wonder Quilty’s earnest political protagonist Peter Ryan takes it quite so badly.

It’s the aftermath of the election count, and a catatonic Ryan (Graham Elwell) is holed up in his dingy constituency office with his outraged, ideologue assistant Kat (Kathleen Collins) and resigned campaign manager Jane (Princess Khumalo), wondering just what went wrong.

Humiliation is complete with the arrival of Jane’s breezily amoral and cynical counterpart Zara (Lucy Bromilow) who has spun her shiny candidate into the seat via a scurrilous social media comms campaign aimed at his opponent– the digital equivalent of Gillray and Rowlandson’s 18th Century satirical political caricatures.

Ryan could go quietly and gracefully. But it turns out this old school socialist has a more revolutionary plan in mind.

Imagine The Thick of It meets Dog Day Afternoon meets Passport to Pimlico meets revolutionary France, seasoned with a dash of Tarantino, and you’re some way to grasping the essence of Quilty’s elaborate and sporadically violent comedy noir.

He throws everything including the kitchen sink into the plot, from wordy political monologues and sly one liners to frenetic physical set pieces and an unexpectedly explosive end to the first half.

Above: Peter Ryan (Graham Elwell) with Zara (Lucy Bromilow), Jane (Princess Khumalo) and Kat (Kathleen Collins). Top: Ryan and campaign manager Jane. Photos by Clara Mbirimi.

Sometimes of course, less is more (take the play’s gargantuan full title The Independent Socialist Republic of the Upper End of the Lower Breck Road for example), and it does feel like there are currently too many ideas competing for space within the narrative arc and two-hour running time.

Tightening the dialogue and upping the physical comedy would help increase the number of genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

Saying that, under director Dan Jones the cast – augmented by recorded performances from Adam Keast as a TV news presenter and Roy Carruthers as a well-meaning citizen revolutionary willing to make the ultimate sacrifice – deliver the densely-worded script, and its frenetic bursts of action, with entertaining vigour.

TISROT to give it a slightly catchier (if still only partial) acronym, is the latest winner of the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize.

The comedy playwriting competition started a decade ago, and its previous winners have concerned friends following a soap opera (Katie Mulgrew’s Omnibus), a Tartuffe-like madcap theatrical farce (The Last Act of Love of JB Moliere), and a disastrous school Ofsted inspection (Headless).


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