Fans of new writing have a veritable dramatic feast at the Burton Taylor studio in seventh week, and they should not be disappointed with Max McGuinness’ Up the Republic! A rhyming political farce which claims to have no agenda of its own, this play should be avoided by staunch Communists, those who have yet to become jaded, and Jacques Chirac, should he be considering attending a student production this week.
The play centres on Georges Duclos (Nicholas Bishop), the mayor of a blighted Parisian suburb during the 2005 riots. It quickly becomes clear that Duclos has abandoned the Communist roots that won him his position in favour of pleasing the majority, neglecting the poor and a little light embezzlement on the side. The major conflict is introduced in the form of Bridgette Papon (Harry Creelman), Duclos’ Fascist ex-wife determined to unseat him, all the while wearing tight leather trousers and displaying her, ahem, décolletage. With the assistance of her lover, Charles Dupont (Paul Clarke), the Chief of Police, Bridgette devises a plan to alienate Duclos from the minority vote using the law against the wearing of religious symbols in public in order to become mayor herself. With the help of Nathalie Weil (Sophie Siem), a sympathetic headmistress, Duclos must attempt to win back the Muslim vote.
Although some of the references are a little dense for the layman, politics students will appreciate the satire of these not-so-distant events, although the general decrying of government, politics, and the banning of headscarves in schools will be clear to even the least politically aware.
The dialogue is sharp and, in places, laden with puns and sexual innuendo, although it rarely strays from its major themes of the corrupting nature of power and the weakness of men. The characters, for the most part, move well and with good energy and the ending is amusing, especially in that it seems to have been snipped neatly from The Simpsons.
There are some very nice touches: Duclos’ speech after he is encouraged to ‘re-brand’ by Nathalie is almost painfully reminiscent of many politicians’ humiliating attempts to be perceived as ‘cool’ by the young and ethnic minorities. His sudden, obsequious and hypocritical support of multiculturalism on Bastille day is cringingly hilarious as, with a reggae band playing the French national anthem, he declares that “imposing our Western ideals is, like, totally unfair.”
Bishop is excellent as the shady politician, portraying a good mix of greasy compulsiveness and quiet desperation. Similarly, Bridgette, for all her posing and pouting, is delightfully devious. The relationship between the two, both as political foes and former lovers, comes across well. The dynamic with their collaborators, Nathalie and Dupont respectively, is less strong however. Siem plays the passionate schoolteacher with a touch of hysteria and Clarke, playing a character named for a washing machine, is at times no less clunky and laborious.
The use of rhyming couplet adds an interesting element to the piece. It is quite subtle, reminding the audience of half-forgotten nursery rhymes and chants from the schoolyard. Though it struggles a little at times and can detract from the dialogue, the juxtaposition of the childish and the supposedly adult world of politics really underlines the farcical and charming nature of this play. However, I’m not entirely convinced that, as the advertising proclaims, this play is ‘enough to make Lenin spin in his grave’. Up the Republic! focuses much more on the weakness of one man rather than the weakness of Communism as a political position. Nonetheless, it is enjoyable, something of a lesson in French politics, and, for the lads, it also contains a rather fit bird.
Dir. Max McGuinness