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Detaining Mr K at 24:7 Theatre Festival

Joan Davies sees a political play that manages not to preach

Published on July 22nd 2009.

Detaining Mr K at 24:7 Theatre Festival

Have you ever worked on a Temp/Casual basis? It’s increasingly common. Were you forced to wear a white paper suit and lie on the floor while a cheery receptionist fed you Gypsy Creams and tea? No, me neither. But then I’ve never been detained without trial before, nor wandered into the wrong theatre space.

The only certainty you leave with is that you absolutely must vote next time you get the chance.

24:7, Manchester’s highly original and pretty modern Theatre Festival, can be full of surprises. If you’re going, and on previous form it’s highly recommended, just check that in the front-of-house gloom, you haven’t ignored the colour-coded tickets and gone in to see the wrong play. I was meant to watch Steve Timms' Temp/Casual but ended up in Red Card Theatre's production, Detaining Mr K.

Writer James Douglas has created a contemporary tale tackling some of the issues raised in the current debate about how far a democratic society facing a terrorist threat should employ detention without trial. This isn’t a preachy piece of political theatre but a genuine attempt to entertain, question and provoke thought. In that, it’s largely successful. Red Card Theatre’s background in Theatre in Education serves them well here.

The two actors, Ruth Urquhart as the ‘friendly’ receptionist Pauline, and Anthony Bentley as the prisoner, give engaging performances. The strength of the play is in the unexpected developments, and the way in which we the audience make assumptions about the circumstances and the characters.

At first we can feel comfortable believing that we know what is going on and believing we know what to think, but gradually our knowledge becomes less certain. We may need to think again about our response to the characters and the real world issues highlighted. It’s quite neat, quite clever, and wrapped up in an hour of fairly entertaining theatre.

It’s argued that theatre today too often ignores important political debates. One problem for dramatists is how much knowledge to assume on behalf of the audience and another is the audience's desire not to feel preached at. This production gets the balance right; it’s certainly accessible and the only certainty you leave with is that you absolutely must vote next time you get the chance.

I do wonder though where they got those Gypsy Creams from. Apparently they’re no longer mass-produced, though I believe Dev’s corner shop still sells them.

Detaining Mr K and Temp/Casual both run until 26 July at New Century House as part of 24:7 Theatre Festival. Click here for further details.

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