voice for democracy

Interruptions review – Stephen Jeffreys’ powerful inquiry into democracy – The Guardian

Jacksons Lane, London
Through intriguing group scenarios, the impressive Represent cast consider politics and tyranny without resorting to pat solutions
Last modified on Tue 23 Nov 2021 13.20 GMT
Interruptions interrogates the rights and wrongs of political leadership in an unnamed state. Written by the late Stephen Jeffreys and first performed under the direction of Annabel Arden in 2001, this is a knotty and intriguing drama about social order, change and tyranny that has been newly adapted for a reduced cast.
It opens on the eve of an election in a socialist democracy which is defined by thudding, Marxist clichés of “comrades”, “the people” and “the bourgeoisie”. Characters debate whether to re-elect a people’s party committed to social reform four years ago but which has since left them disappointed. The election is won over the course of the play but is followed by a military coup.

Directed by Guy Woolf for the theatre company Represent, its six-strong cast (Aaron Douglas, Samarge Hamilton, Sarel Madziya, Nemide May, Emily Pemberton and Loussin-Torah Pilikian) switch roles in seven non-sequential scenarios. Each of these encapsulates a group’s relationship to power, from fighting chefs preparing a feast for the new president to members of a desert monastery, looking for signs that will help them decide on a new successor for their order, and intellectuals-turned-manual-workers in a socialist state that has tipped into tyranny.
Some of these fragmented scenes feel deliberately abstruse and static, demanding our concentration. There is one in which factory workers play a game of throwing a can that points to far bigger power dynamics.
One scene about a film crew, repeatedly going over the same scene, builds its sense of threat in miniature as the bigger, bloodier terror of the coup kicks off. Beth Duke’s sound design further raises the stakes with sirens, machine gunfire and the rumble of upheaval, along with Bethany Gupwell’s scrutinising lighting on sides of the stage.
The play explores debates around political disengagement and the power of the vote, and there is no neatly packaged message nor soapbox polemics aside from a few clumsy moments. One character in the filming scene mocks the fact that everything in the screenplay has a “hidden meaning” and he could be speaking for Jeffreys’ script itself.
The strong ensemble switch roles with ease and balance the tone between political speechifying, spiky comedy and a sense of dread. They move in choreographed mime or dance sometimes but also freeze in the middle of a scene and seem purposefully artificial in their manner, such as the strained smile of a head chef, which appears threatening, and emphatically spoken lines, which gives the drama a slightly non-naturalistic air.
Because of its formal experiment, sense of repetition and elliptical scenarios, the play comes to feel drawn out by the end. But there is richness in its tricky and demanding nature and this powerful play is well worth watching.
At Jacksons Lane, London, until 4 December. Livestreamed on 25 November.

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