Many King’s students would, at some point over the last year, have made the short trek down to Westminster to join in a protest. In just the last 12 months, Parliament Square has witnessed countless crowds united by a mutual concern: solidarity for refugees, climate change, junior doctors’ contracts, austerity, and only last week the decision to bomb Syria. Each issue brings together thousands, all longing to be heard, as they exercise their sacred right to protest; a right which is increasingly portrayed by both politicians and media as an excuse used by anarchists to damage public property and beat up police officers.
Running this week at the Etcetera Theatre, The Surge is a thoughtful reflection on these issues. The production explores the relationship between press, public and politicians, and the seemingly futile task of trying to stimulate change. Emily Ashbrook plays Jessica Wiles, a young idealist who has recently been voted in as MP of Vauxhall. After years of campaigning on the streets, she now has to balance her zeal with her public image, and learn to play by the Westminster rules. After speaking at a protest which turns violent, she finds herself hounded by the press: her policies are ridiculed and her quotes distorted to an extent which would make The Sun proud.
The Surge effectively uses an ensemble cast to represent the pressures bearing down on Wiles: the public she represents, the politicians she irritates, and the media she relies on for her message to be heard. The whole cast is excellent, morphing suddenly from journalists to MPs, and brilliantly satirising the careerists found all too abundantly in the press and Parliament. The minimalist set design is effective too; no props are used besides a screen showing protest footage. Like the demonstrators on whom the play focuses, the cast uses nothing but voices and bodies to convey their message.
Central to this reflective play is the idea that protests do actually work. However powerless one may feel, it has been through individuals uniting on the streets that real change has occurred. Despite being ridiculed and vilified, protesters are engaging in a democratic right, and a historical ritual.
Tickets are still available for Friday’s and Saturday’s performances of The Surge online: https://www.ticketea.co.uk/tickets-theatre-the-surge-8th-11th-december/