Part-political thriller, part-domestic drama, part-farcical comedy, The Activist is a demanding play for its audience. The play follows a terrorist cell of five environmental activists — a ‘little circle of confidantes’ – whose relationships are complicated not only by strained marriages and whispers of infidelity, but by the existence of a mole. Â The premise, which mixes terrorism and family intrigue, bomb ploys and baby toys, is very ambitious. It would be easy to imagine, in the wrong hands, the story losing its way and its audience, resulting in the carnage and confusion that the play takes as its central theme. However, it must be said that, on a scene by scene level, the clarity and power of the Rob Williams’ language ensures that this piece of new writing never gets stuck in the mire, that audiences are never left behind. The intertextual relationship with Seneca’s Medea is clever and understated, adding an extra layer of interest to the script.
Â Â There is a lot here which wouldn’t be out of place in a script written by a seasoned professional; however, the writing was far more compelling during dialogue, which was unfailingly subtle, witty and leant well to characterisation, than during the sections of monologue which, in their attempts to be somewhat lyrical and emotive, sadly ended up a bit tangled, mixing metaphors jarringly and relying on overdone alliteration at the expense of clarity.Â
The characters in this play are very strong. Freddy, whose tendency to exaggerate and geeky turns of phrase produce some fantastic moments, is played by an energetic Richard O’Brien. Nouran Koriem is impressive as the stoical and absent Adele, and William Davies is particularly convincing as Mikhail. The portrayal of children, admittedly genuinely difficult, sometimes fails to convince (perhaps a fault of the occasional blip in the script — at one point an otherwise amazingly eloquent young girl talks to her mother about ‘the thing you call a… baby?’). Some performers could also be accused of occasionally getting carried away during monologues, though generally everyone found the perfect balance between humour and seriousness which seems to characterise Williams’ approach.Â
The venue, the confidentially small Frewin Undercroft, brings a furtiveness which complements the detailed, homely set design, as well as Ashleigh Wheeler’s minimalist staging. The visuals are perfectly suited to a play which combines domestic strife with darker political machinations. Though the plot is convoluted, mature and unobtrusive staging helps the audience to negotiate its twists and turns, without patronising with flamboyant pointers. A thoroughly enjoyable, impressively written play. Â Â Â Â