Writer: Aurin Squire
Director: Tommo Fowler
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Looked at from the perspective of late 2014, the old adage that all political careers end in failure seems destined to find living proof in the shape of Barrack Obama. Aurin Squire’s biting critique of the state of modern democracy views the seeds of failure as having already been sown in November 2008, as he shows us an Obama campaign consumed by cynicism, compromise and personal ambition. Even so, the play also questions whether, taking a much longer view, failure will in fact be the final verdict of history.
Squire looks at events through the eyes of Warren, a college graduate from New York and a newcomer to the campaign team. Being young, educated, black and gay, he seems to tick all the boxes to succeed on the liberal wing of American politics, except that he lacks the ability to connect with the disadvantaged electorate in the deprived area of East Cleveland to which he is assigned. At first, he cannot see beyond his narrow aim to be “part of history”, but the campaign takes him on a journey which leads him to want to make a difference to people’s lives in ways that charismatic politicians cannot directly bring about.
As Warren, Edward Dede takes centre stage for much of the play and holds this production together. Ranging from a comic figure of wide-eyed innocence to a passionate advocate for self-improvement, he gives a commanding performance. No less impressive is Pearl Mackie as Cece, an illiterate mother of two whose ambitions do not extend beyond a job in a burger joint. The bond which develops between Warren and Cece forms the emotional core of the play.
Mackie shows her versatility by also playing Caits, a feisty street kid and a campaign “instructor”. Peter Caulfield, Katherine Newman and Amanda Wright are all excellent, primarily playing senior members of the campaign team and sharing all the other rôles.
Campaign posters and urban graffiti around all sides of the stage create a feeling of chaotic energy and Tommo Fowler matches this by giving us a fast flowing production in which comedy, suspense and high emotion are delivered with equal confidence. In all respects, this production is in tune with Squire’s smart and incisive dialogue.
On election day, as naive idealists utter platitudes such as “this is post-racial America”, the realists in the campaign team are already busy lining up jobs for themselves in the new administration. Squire’s play understands that momentous changes cannot be brought about on one day nor can they be achieved by one politician, but it also tells us that, if that politician can inspire hope within downtrodden individuals, he will not have failed.
Runs until 16th December