Albion1Chris Thompson’s powerful new play focuses on the rise of the far right in modern-day Britain and reflects issues immediately relevant and straight out of today’s headlines.

It’s a Saturday night in The Albion, an East End pub where karaoke is the main pastime, and where Jayson (Tony Clay) is king of the mic.

But away from the party atmosphere there is a dark underbelly because The Albion is also the main headquarters of extreme right wing political group the English Protection Army or EPA, an organisation with an all too familiar but no less chilling agenda of England for the English, an end to immigration and anti gay marriage that is run by Jayson’s older brother Paul (Steve John Shepherd)

But while Paul’s views would seem to be extreme he does at least realise that for the EPA to have any credibility and attract new members with genuine concerns it must distance itself from the violence that is the default position of many in the group, including deputy leader Kyle (Delroy Atkinson) and his own easily led younger brother — whose life is further complicated because he is in a secret gay relationship with an Asian man.

As Paul tries to work his party more into the political mainstream assisted by disillusioned social worker Christine (Natalie Casey), a power struggle develops that threatens to tear allies, friends and family apart.

Thompson’s play is often brutal and puts its themes across in uncompromising fashion, but it is never sensational for the sake of it and there is also humour and moments that really move you. He cleverly uses the karaoke theme to enhance the dialogue. All the favourites are here: Total Eclipse of the Heart, I will Survive, If I Could Turn Back Time and they are neatly woven into the narrative, sometimes movingly and other times, when things threaten to get the wrong side of cheesy, with a tongue firmly in the cheek.

Ria Parry’s direction shows some neat touches and she’s well served by some fine performances, particularly Steve John Shepherd as the angry Paul and Tony Clay as the conflicted Jayson, while the traverse seating of the Bush Theatre puts the audience right at the heart of the action.

It’s possibly a tad too long, a section of the second act slows things down a bit and could have done with a little trimming , but overall this is a play confronting important issues in a dramatic and entertaining way with an excellent cast that deserves to be a success.

Reviewed by Tony Peters

Albion is playing at the Bush Theatre until 25 October 2014. Click here for tickets.