Edinburgh Fringe 2009
An exciting and highly engaging debut from Zia Trench, the play explores the unshakeable core of conviction that sits at the heart of some individuals. Tommy Price is a man gone to war against war with tragic personal yet inspiring social consequences.
Based on the life of protestor Brian Haw, Zia Trench’s impressive debut play explores the causes that stay firm at the heart of some people, causes which cannot be eroded with the passage of years, nor the external pressures to abandon, change or conform. Although politics and war are the backdrop for this production, much deeper, more generic themes are also uncovered with skill and insight.
Michael Byrne plays Tommy Price, who for seven years has occupied a place close to Parliament, megaphone in hand, berating passing members of parliament about the war and unjustice. Haw himself is an ongoing thorn in the side of the establishment, and this play, written by an accomplished journalist and political researcher, portrays the "estabishment" as uncomfortable with protest, corrupt and career-minded and, most of all, uneasy with the power of an individual who shouts with a louder voice in what they see as "their" public domain.
Byrne’s portrayal of Price is spot-on. He has a quality that reminds one of Shaffers’s Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons – resolute, a determination born of the necessity of his conscience, and yet also a child-like innocence in the face of brutality. His wife, long-suffering from a husband who has gone to fight a war against war, is played by Julie Higginson with just the right amount of anger and impatience, yet one never feels she has truly abandoned him, even when asking his to sign divorce papers.
Set at the protest camp that Price has occupied for years, supported by many, abused by some, he remains there "24-7" resolute and immovable. The play is essentialy a series of dialogues between Price and his wife, with a career-hingry member of parliament, and with a Journalist.
The play does sometimes feel a bit overloaded with "information". It carries the weight of a lot of research – it is hard to fault the meticulous observation that has created such a believable play; however sometimes it feels as if the characters are a little to much of a mouthpiece for the "issues" the piece explores. Also, the career-hungry member of parliament, played by Diana Walker, is directed too much as a caricature, almost Yes-Minister-ish and this is a little self-defeating. Demonising the government figure in this way isn’t necessary, as the script is well observed enough to allow a more natualistic portrayal.
One might think that Price himself is a little over-dramatsed, until one watches video footage of Haw himself. Then you realise how spot on director Justin Butcher, writer Zia Trench and actor Michael Byrne have got it. The writing is clever and sharp and explores its subject matter deeply. For example, underneath the drama, there is an examination of the fundamental difference between obstruction and protest, as well as how, even the ultimately and apparently ineffective protest of one person can act as a kind of powerful homeopathy on the hearts and minds of a nation. Can a man be broken? Not in the case of Price, even at the expense of his own personal family life.
There’s such a sharp and strong irony that comes through Trench’s writing in The State We’re In. "Bring our Daddy Home" is the sloga of the tragedy of Afghanistan and Iraq. And yet it is Tommy Price who has gone to war, the battleground is his protest camp on a traffic island in London. Price is also a dad away from his kids and his wife, a wife who has had enough and wants her man back home. This is portayed in tragi-comic style in a play that mixes humour with sadness, the satirical and barbed wit of Price against authority, with the heart-breaking sense of loss of his long-suffering wife.
Price defines his protest as a "work of art". Here we have a work of art from Zia Trench that speaks powerfully, is always engaging and touching, and is a highly recommended piece of theatre. Don’t miss it.