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FringeReview UK 2017

Low Down

Directed by David Overend, Rob Drummond’s The Majority features a hanging hive design by Jemima Robinson centred in this in-the-round experience. It’s suspended over a circular floor through which tables rise and drop with segment lighting round the centre like a blue orange, a touch away from game shows, lit by Michael Harpur. Mogzi Bromley-Morgans’ video projection of bees buzzes to Scott Twynholms’s sound and music.


If Rob Drummond’s /Bullet Catch/ charmed and alarmed at NT’s The Shed and Brighton Festival in 2013, here Drummond starts his odyssey of political immersion in a prison cell; for throwing a punch at a neo-Nazi. Opening three days after the Charlottesville murder, the timing’s eerily prescient and more charged than even Drummond might have imagined.


Directed by David Overend, Drummond calls on audience participation with electronic voting sets: ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a sequence of moral tangles where the percentage each way instantly flashes up. Whilst Drummond’s known for participatory work, this edges to James Graham’s 2014 Privacy at the Donmar, or the Donmar’s deployment of torches to the audience of The Tempest recently.


It’s the hanging hive design by Jemima Robinson that catches the attention first though, in this in-the-round experience, suspended over a circular floor through which tables rise and drop with segment lighting round the centre like a blue orange, a touch away from game shows, lit by Michael Harpur. Scott Twynholms’s buzz sound and music thwacks murmur under Mogzi Bromley-Morgans’ video projection of bees. It isn’t the apiary avocation of Drummond’s hard-left mentor for nothing. Drummond opens with a parliament of bees; here it’s a bit like Bernard Mandeville’s scabrous take on social organisation in The Fable of the Bees (1723): criminal advantage is sardonically praised at the expense of communal effort – the reverse of Hobbes’ Leviathan and total state control. It’s the struggle between apathy and swinging punches, the domain of game-show absolutes: a buzzy metaphor.


Drummond’s engaging straight-man spiels his pub story-telling, one remove from a play, so the audience/presenter relationship presents a third dimension. The apolitical Drummond who didn’t vote in the Scottish referendum decides as a playwright to stalk the disappointed the morning after. Encountering activist Eric Ferguson who promptly vanishes, Drummond takes up the task of returning his wallet, embarking on a re-education programme where paranoid Ferguson declares counsellors in his north Scotland town are fascists. Some certainly advocate repellent views; pro-refugee Drummond becomes further drawn in, scrawling insults, keyboard warriordom, finally that punch. Then Ferguson vanishes again. It’s a shaggy bee story but do we want the key?


So the audience are 95% liberal, 92% Remain, 89% in favour of admitting latecomers; 53% against absolute free speech; 53% against a toilet break, but only 32% in favour of Scottish independence. Narrative breaks feature voting on variations of that well-worn groove: switching rail tracks to save many but kill one. There’s neat manipulation too because at one juncture we’re asked is it right to let a racist know you’re onto them? Then a crucial vote on abusing them later on hooks up those who’ve now seen potential consequences in a return plea from a neo-Fascist site. Define ‘abuse’ then with that ringing, and an uneasy sense that you’d not have bothered with such niceties if Charlottesville, Oklahoma bomber Tim McVeigh or the Admiral Duncan bomber David Copeland had just happened to you.


Events have overtaken this elegant liberal though; he’s best introducing his Tory mother’s banalities which like Balzac soon gain a superior banality and wisdom, about feeling the same whether right or wrong, that shows the kind of play Drummond might write if not using his favourite participatory form.


Drummond dovetails plotlines narrowly silenced by vote, by implying them anyway. He notes that uneasy split on a toilet break which affects a post-show discussion with 12% who voted for abusing bigots. It’s held in the foyer not theatre; this might change with each show. It should since impetus gets lost and discussing free speech – the nub of Drummond’s own anxieties – unresolved. The narrative curve moves us from spectators to complicity then back. Recent events stick us somewhere in the middle, unsure what ‘abusing’ a fascist entails. Liberal anomie, feeling despite everything you’re the minority.


If you go you might trace this more easily than a morally jumpy first night. It’s a format and premise eminently worth trying, though the lightness of storyline means we’re never as engaged or as complicit as we might be. That though begs questions of heavier plots and cumbersome jump-cuts. Drummond will have to vote on it.