Skip to content


Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Wednesday, 06 August 2008

I'D HAD NO INTENTION AT ALL of seeing Answers, the newly-written political drama brought to Edinburgh by Newcastle University Theatre Society.  But an encounter with the cast on the Royal Mile proved - once again - that an eye-catching flyer and a winning line in patter can draw even the most battle-hardened of punters into your show.

So was the play a winner, too?  Well - almost.  The concept's intriguing enough, set in the near future, as a controversial Extremism Bill is about to go to the Commons vote.  It's a knife-edge decision, and a back-bench rebellion's in train.  Unfortunately, the way we find out all this is through a heavy-handed lump of opening exposition - a TV interview followed by a languid office chat which take us almost a third of the way into the play before anything's really happened at all.

But the day's saved by the arrival of Nick Phippin, the sardonic spin-doctor who forms the cornerstone of the ensemble.  Actor Samuel Jefferson's development of the character was perfectly judged: likeable and roguish, he deliciously dead-panned many of the show's best lines, leaving me both wanting him to triumph and desperately hoping he'd get his come-uppance in the end.  The pace picks up further with the arrival of rebellious MP Andrew Woodman who, deftly portrayed by Fringe debutant Andrew McKeane, leads Nick and the staff into a genuinely interesting web of intrigue.

The storyline's a good one, but there's one big problem with Answers: it simply feels too real.  In our justly cynical age, this bitingly bitter peek behind the closed doors of Westminster says little new.  The best activist drama shows you something which could happen, but you hope never will; something you'll leave the theatre pledging your life to prevent.  Answers, on the other hand, is a call to arms for a battle already lost.

At times, too, the dialogue betrayed a lack of confidence in the audience.  As the roguish Nick twisted and manoeuvred, we could smell the stench of hypocrisy in the room - we didn't need low-grade lackey Ben Shepherd, the show's Everyman, to explain it to us.  The irony was that, while general cynicism was laid on with a trowel, not much was actually said about the show's big issues; more than once, Ben explained his angst simply as "the civil liberties stuff".

There's a lot I liked about Answers, not least the courage of the decision to bring a serious political drama to the Fringe.  But it needed a bit more: more humour, more personality, a more outlandish twist.  Above all, it needed to escape from the stultifying confines of the office, for a hurried conference in the Parliament Lobby or a hush-hush assignation by the Thames.  But all that said, there's the bones of a fine modern drama here: let's hope the talented NU Theatre Company will take it on.

<< Vanity Fair Portraits   Barbershopera >>


These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2008.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

Current reviews >>

Edinburgh 2013

Coming to the Fringe this year?  We can help you make the most of your time.  Learn about Edinburgh's summer Festivals and plan your visit around the city's major events. 

Find out more >>

Top Reviews

[ A-Z ] [ Recent ] [ Best ]