I’ll come clean: I’m not much of one for interactive theatre. Award-winning Glaswegian playwright Rob Drummond, on the other hand, is the man who once said, ‘my ultimate dream is that I wouldn’t even be in the theatre; I would simply leave the script for the audience to find and let them get on with it.’
So I approached the National's Dorfman Theatre to take my seat for The Majority with no small measure of trepidation. This, after all, was the playwright who last year created In Fidelity, the ultimate blind date where two hapless members of the audience were brought on stage to initiate a relationship.
Oh, and the author of Bullet Catch, an intense seventy-five minuter the whole point of which was to persuade a spectator to fire a gun at him.
Something had to give.
In the end, I needn’t have worried: The Majority is rather tame by comparison. It’s Drummond’s first foray into politics as the core of the work, rather than just an accidental sideline, as in previous shows. As an audience all we had to was vote on a series of ever more demanding propositions – a bit like in real life, then. And should we chose not to vote, well, he said, 'you can just disenfranchise yourselves…' A gentle dig, but a dig nonetheless.
The show itself is a one-man routine which wouldn’t be out of place in the Edinburgh festival fringe, except here the production values are rather more sophisticated – the work of an extensive technical team, led by director David Overend.
In the small Dorfman theatre the audience completely surround the stage. At its centre is a circular pool of neon light surmounted by a beehive structure upon which, as we enter clutching our small voting pads, are projected images of very busy buzzing bees. Raised screens on two sides of the stage will show the result of the audience votes during the performance.
The show, you see, is to a large extent about community – hence the bees! – though the industrious insects have a walk on part, as it were, later on in Drummond’s performance.
On comes Drummond, your youngish everyman with his mild Scottish accent. A series of votes establishes the make-up of his audience, which, this being London’s National Theatre, is more or less as expected and will probably not vary significantly between performances: liberal, mostly white, slightly more women than men, politically engaged, and overwhelmingly pro-Remain.
Once that’s established, Drummond launches into a long picaresque tale, which kicks off with on September 19th 2014, the day after the Scottish independence referendum – in which, he tells us, he didn’t vote.
That proves to be a fateful day, because that’s when he meets Eric, a left-wing activist and/or conspiracy theorist, ready to see 'nazis' everywhere. Eric keeps bees – real, not just symbolic bees, and lots of them at the bottom of his garden in the northernmost point of the UK. If you combine the two things, then – of course! – Eric becomes a 'social justice beekeeper'.
The friendship that develops leads Drummond on a voyage of political and ethical self-discovery, one where he increasingly questions himself and the validity of his views.
The show is highly entertaining and mostly very funny: Drummond is an engaging raconteur, and his cast of characters is amusing, simultaneously all too real and increasingly surreal. It touches on a number of very topical questions, besides the Scottish independence referendum: Brexit, freedom of speech, the freedom to hold opinions which others would find objectionable, the debate on whether or not to resettle refugees from the Syrian civil war... and whether latecomers should be allowed into the theatre – you get to vote on that, too.
However, I never got the feeling that the votes we cast in any way affected the development of Drummond’s script on the night; nor that the well-established ‘trolley problem’ led me to re-evaluate my political or ethical views.
From that point of view, The Majority is perhaps not so portentous a show as it aspires to be, but there is no doubt that it is a very enjoyable and quite original 90 minutes. And that author/actor Rob Drummond is a fresh voice well worth keeping attuned to.
|What||NT, The Majority Review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
11 Aug 17 – 28 Aug 17, 19:30 Wed/Sat mat 14:30 Dur.:1 hour 30 mins no interval
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre website|