For a project that deliberately thrives on rapid response and shoestring staging, Theatre Uncut is showing remarkable durability. Launched three years ago, the initiative invites playwrights to react to contemporary issues by writing short plays. The scripts are then made available to download free for a specific period: during that time, the work goes viral, with groups performing the plays all over the world. The idea is not to produce perfect drama, but to seize on the nature of theatre as a public forum, to raise questions and stimulate debate. There’s a certain crispness in the air at performances, with the audience leaning forward, ready to engage.
Six of this year’s dramas run at the Young Vic, all different in style and tone, all directed by Hannah Price or Emma Callander and all delivered with surprising precision by a cast with only the minimum of rehearsal. Several plays tackle a running theme: the impact of long-term austerity on the social fabric, the inclination to polarise and to seek someone to blame. In Clara Brennan’s The Wing, a student daughter is shocked to return home and discover that her father has joined the English Defence League; in Mark Thomas’s caustic satire, Church Forced to Close its Gates After Font Used as Wash Basin by Migrants, a bullying, foulmouthed tabloid proprietor is held hostage by his own office cleaners and forced to print facts.
There’s weariness at the status quo in Amanda, Kieran Hurley’s touching portrait of a politician sliding beneath the bath foam in her desire to block out the exhaustion of compromise. Meanwhile, Neil LaBute’s little shocker, Pick One, imagines an America where things have got so tight that politicians gather to think the unthinkable.
The quality of writing and subtlety of subject matter is variable: some targets seem a little obvious. The most original work comes from Rachel Chavkin of the innovative New York group, the TEAM. She simply offers a recipe for a show that companies can cook up as they choose: on Wednesday Le Mot Juste offered a slapstick physical satire presenting politics as a childish game show run along formulaic lines. And the most subtle drama is Tim Price’s Capitalism is Crisis, showing a former banker and an activist gradually changing sides as money changes hands. Neatly constructed so the two monologues dovetail repeatedly, it is the most thought-provoking work of the evening.