Set in 2011, the play 13 by Mike Bartlett and performed at HOME studio by Manchester School of Theatre should be the perfect script for today.  The Prime Minister must decide whether to bomb a foreign country (here Iran) in the face of public opposition.  Public opinion is channelled through John, a mysterious leader who has returned after years away, and who leverages social media for his cause.  The case for bombing is led by God-hating academic Stephen (Barney Healy-Smith).

The cast of sixteen create a tapestry of characters that populate modern London, connected only by the same recurring nightmare.  These are developed well throughout the first half of the play, with some interesting conflict carefully set up.  But the central political arguments at the heart of this play are weak and we focus instead on the stronger characters and the most interesting plot lines.  The most dramatic story is the apparently normal American family of Dennis (Daniel Harkin), Sarah (Hannah Lawrie), and daughter Ruby (Queenie Ingrams), and in fact the play would have done well to develop around Ruby’s character, who questions our assumptions about modern life and religion.

Instead, the second half focuses on the meeting between Prime Minister (Teresa Padden-Evans) and John (Elliot Keefe).  It’s well acted and the characters are nicely drawn but you can’t get away from the fact that the words just aren’t interesting, and the arguments in the text are unsupported and implausible.  Moreover, some of the most interesting subplots from the first half never go anywhere.

As with all MMU productions, the direction is crisp and the acting is of the highest quality, sound used extensively to great effect, and lighting evokes the right mood in each scene.  Staging is perfect for the first half – the Prime Minister’s office looking down on London as a statement of power – but in the second seems a bit far away from the action.  Scene changes are quick and flow well with the action.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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