Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough at Park Theatre
The script description of Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough defines it as a “relentless, fast paced, hysterical, crude, offensive, passionate, visceral and oh so British comedy that will leave you wanting to grab a placard and take to the streets!” Unfortunately, while this may have been the intention, actualisation fell some way short of ambition.
Apparently informed by sources within the government, the production exposes and satirizes the farcical pantomime behind the British 2015 election circuit. Author Ben Alderton plays a thinly disguised version of David Cameron in the person of David Carter, prime minister of the then coalition government. Alderton’s physical stature added to the bullying nature of his character, accentuated by the much smaller James Bryant as Nick Clog, reduced at one point to cleaning his senior partner’s shoes so insignificant has his role within the coalition become. Nonetheless, the prime minister’s public presentation is never less than polished, in spite of his personal insecurities and apparent lack of principles or conviction. In contrast, Ben Hood’s Ned Contraband is presented as decent but catastrophically insecure and completely out of his depth as a party leader. Although clearly adept in physical comedy, Hood brought elements of subtlety ensuring that audience sympathy was maintained in spite of vacillation between the competing influences of Will, his new age life coach and Sharon, media strategist and advisor. However while there was obvious comic mileage to be gained from the pretentious offerings of Will (convincingly played by Michael Edwards) it was unclear whether the audience was genuinely expected to believe that the leader of the opposition was so lacking in intelligence or self-awareness as to buy into this nonsense. Satire this may be but there still has to be a secure base from which to proceed. Conversely, Cassandra Hercules required rather more conviction than volume to establish authority as media strategist, not helped by the occasional less than natural static poses.
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough begins with what appears to be a version of the psychologist’s word reaction exercise in a kind of ensemble extended stream of consciousness. While an impressive feat of verbal pyrotechnics, its function is unclear since it does not seem to relate to the structure of the rest of the play. Indeed, it detracts from what would be a much more logical introduction in the form of Patrick’s first speech. In this respect, Mikhail Sen’s Election Consultant was the most rounded of all the characters – intelligent, sensitive and idealistic but nonetheless compromised by his contribution to Carter’s election victory. It was also unclear why it required the injection of Corbz (Edward Halstead) as a janitor in the form of Obi Wan Kenobi to provide gnomic utterances between scenes before providing a reinvigoration of Patrick’s ideals at the play’s conclusion. It might have been more logical to allow Patrick to bookend the play with his own thoughts than hit the audience over the head with laboured dialogue. The subsequent appearance of Corbz in sequined spandex with the rest of the company following on for danced bows presented as something of a strained attempt to regain audience attention.
In many respects, this was a play which appeared to be trying too hard for its own good. If a back wall panel was required to be colour coded depending on which political party was being presented this suggests something of a lack of confidence in either audience or material. Rehearsals were no doubt enjoyable for the cast but the satire and joke as a whole was overplayed – like a sketch stretched way beyond the point made. While each of the party leaders had an opportunity to reveal something of their genuine thoughts and feelings, these were in stark contrast to the one dimensional characters portrayed in the rest of the play, with the result that more sympathy was generated for the formidable Glyniss (a cracking performance by Annie Tyson) who was at least absolutely clear about her function and what was required to fulfil it.
Review by Robin Kelly
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough is playing at the Park Theatre until the 18th May. To find out more visit their website.