Review: Feed the Beast

800x600.fitdownRichard Lutz at The Birmingham Rep on a new political play opening just before the election

It is election time. Not so much out here in the real world where Cameron and Miliband are taking chunks out of each other, but on the Birmingham Rep Studio stage where a new Labourish post-Blair Prime Minister is just putting his feet under the oak desk after a resounding win.

Michael Goodlad (played by Gerald Kyd) won’t play ball with the media. He will succeed or fail on the worth of his policies, he says, not on bits thrown or leaked to the papers. But his new rottweiler of a press chief – a kind of an Alistair Campbell clone – knows all politicians have to play ball sooner or later. It is only a matter of time.

In other words, you have to feed the beast and the beast is omnivorous, insatiable, amoral. It just eats and eats and eats.

But we all kind of know that. And when Shaun Mason’s press snake Scott has to deliver a lecture to the idealistic Prime Minister about social media and the 24 hour roll of news, you get the feeling the script is about ten years too late. It is a play for the 2005 election, not the 2015 ballot. What Prime Minister in waiting wouldn’t know about the power of the factless tweet or the catty Facebook rumour? PM Goodlad seemingly doesn’t know. And it doesn’t sit right as the plot unfolds.

And that seems to be the trouble with Feed the Beast. Its acting is up to standard. There are some great political zingers, the plot is okay (about a national leader with a problem in the family), there are aides who hate each other. But you can see where this play is going about five minutes before it erupts on The Studio’s stage.

And  you know the high minded ideals will crumble, the beast will rampage and lives and careers will be destroyed.

Admittedly, the structure of Feed the Beast has a nice touch – small fragments, almost soundbites – to reflect the state of these unknowable times and the staccato media, and a single set located in a gentlemen’s club ambience seems to add to the remove of the Prime Minister from modern Britain as the main players slowly turn on each other. It gives the play an unsettling feel as contemporary digital problems are bashed out behind dark oaken panels and Edwardian furniture.

Yes, it is a is timely play. It is, after all, only a fortnight before the real vote. And, coincidentally, I saw it on the night the Wikipedia row flared up in Tory faces over suspect editing. But Feed the Beast does not satisfy. I wanted more on the plate.

Tickets: 0121 236 4455. Until 2nd May.