Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 9th October 2018
“The only just punishment here is hard labour in the rehearsal rooms of London and amputation of at least some of the ideas and themes”
Some plays you want to hate and come to love. Others, like The Agency at the Old Red Lion Theatre, you really want to love but can’t help being let down. Part of London Horror Festival, Davey Seagle’s (writer, director and ‘lighting guy’) creation is improv, audience participation, voting technology, political satire, who-done-it, romantic comedy and more. The audience are jurors in a near-future Britain where a private company (The Agency) doles out budget-conscious justice as this jury sees fit; it’s all on the table from a cheap and cheerful execution to an expensive bout of rehabilitation. Hopes were high of a timely play about the ethics of late austerity, but with the ideas delivered in an if-you-didn’t-like-that-one-then-how-about-this-one manner and actors quickly losing control (over the audience and their own mouths), it failed to deliver.
As we passed the sixty minutes mark of a play starting at 9:30pm things had bubbled out of hand. Our actors were shouting for silence as an unruly audience called out over one another as we searched for a traitor in our midst. Members of the public where made to stand up and defend themselves before their fate was voted on, as yet more accusations were spat out from the second row and left unheard. I began to wonder if this was, in fact, the point. Maybe, I thought, the play was about anarchy mob rule? But no, order was restored, the traitor was missed, and we were brought back in into line.
Only making matters more convoluted was a mostly 1950s look to the set and costume but accompanying this was at least one poster aping contemporary anti-terrorist adverts, accents often from the 1920s and oddly futuristic props. For the when and where, we simply had to take the script at its unsubtle word.
How had these characters-come-supply-teachers lost control? Well, there wasn’t much else to do but cause mischief: idle hands make light work for the devil. Performances were loose and stumbling as actors simply spoke over one another or switched accents for reasons unknown. Georgie Oulton (Bunny) stood out for sheer commitment and Chris Elms (Chuck) was solid as those around him swallowed their lines, but it wasn’t enough to have the audience actually care. Where the script did get to speak, it didn’t have much to say leaving a late breaking ‘I fight for freedom’ speech written more like a teenage whine than Braveheart’s cry.
For a play about crime and punishment, The Agency lets itself off lightly. The only just punishment here is hard labour in the rehearsal rooms of London and amputation of at least some of the ideas and themes. We all believe in rehabilitation after all and there is a lot that could go right about an ambitious and inventive play like this.
Reviewed by William Nash
Old Red Lion Theatre until 11th October as part of London Horror Festival 2018