Trying it On, David Edgar at Ustinov Studio, Bath

AFTER writing more than 60 plays for stage, television and radio, many of them with strong political themes befitting someone who was at the heart of student politics when he chaired the Socialist Soc­iety at Manchester Uni­ver­sity at the end of the 1960s, David Edgar breaks cover and appears on stage in this virtual one hander.

With just  one major intervention from stage manager Danielle Phillips, Edgar examines the hopes and ambitions he and so many others had in the 1970s – and how many of those ambitions actually have come to fruition.

Standing on a sparsely-set stage, a bank of what appears to be cardboard boxes at the back, with the occasional filing cabinet in front of them, and Phillips cueing in lights and sound effects from a table stage right,  for one hour 25 minutes, David Edgar trawls through his life from the exciting days at university when anything seemed possible, to the present time. Helping him on his way are snippets of conversations and interviews with friends and colleagues who were part of those formative years, some like Tariq  Ali famous, others far less so. Not all of them have retained those ideals, hopes and desires so set in stone 50 years ago.

Interesting as it was to see these faces appear on the cardboard boxes and filing cabinets, and perfectly cued as the lighting and sound was, there is no doubt that many in the average-aged 45-plus audience would have appreciated clearer presentation.

Forgetting the content for a moment, this was a  prodigious feat of concentration and acting ability from a 70- year-old man who claims that his last major role on stage was as Captain Bligh  in a school production. Starting with a light-hearted introduction to the subject during which he discovered that the majority of his audience were floating voters (if they were to be believed), David Edgar displayed the sort of comic timing that would be expected of a regular player of light- hearted stage plays.

Politics were, however, never far away, nor the self examination of how true he had stayed to those so strongly held beliefs of 50 years ago. Had he and many of his generation sold out for success. His adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby for the Royal Shakespeare Company put him in the forefront of world famous authors. In 1976, four years before Nicholas Nickleby, Destiny, which attacked the National Front in the strongest terms, had its views watered down from the sake of popular success.

Looking down the body of David Edgar’s work, I doubt that there is much, if any, truth in that remark, but like so many successful men who have reached their 70th birthday, questions and doubts begin to appear. Whilst he never shies away from these thoughts it is Danielle Phillips’ sudden interjection and threat to quit the stage that results in someone from a much younger generation putting the questions that help to show how much Edgar and his generation did achieve, and at the same time, like those who had gone before and today’s zealots who protest so loudly for such great causes, how much they will fail to achieve.

If you have an hour and 25 minutes to spare, do so in the company of David Edgar. You will not find it all completely comfortable, but it’s a very rewarding experience.


Posted in Reviews on .