Dir. Drew Taylor, Citizens Theatre, 2nd – 4th March
An accordion and a guitar. Five mannequins with Hitler moustaches. Two performers darting about the stage space, dressed in what seems to be mid-20th century clothing, issuing disclaimers that yes, the audience will be invited to play characters throughout the show – everything and anything from Russian boyfriends to members of a North Korean Taylor Swift tribute band.
If that all sounds like a bit of a weird mix, then that’s because it definitely is. Although Avoidable Climbing describes itself as ‘a poetic political black comedy’ – a play about ‘what we could do’ and ‘what we should do’ to improve today’s bleak political landscape – it’s more like a humorously piecemeal, occasionally musical showcase that seeks to show some of the ways in which right-wing perspectives become the norm.
This takes on a lot of different guises throughout Avoidable Climbing’s hour-and-a-bit runtime, the most memorable of which is the snappy satirical take on a YouTube tutorial, instructing viewers on how to become a ruthless dictator in five easy steps. (Step 1: pick a sad country. Step 2: find a minority group to blame…) Another high point of the play is the recurring breakfast scene, which features a couple nervous to look at yesterday’s election results. Beginning in 1933 Germany and showcasing contemporary North Korea, 2012 Russia and, most unnervingly for today’s modern audience, the aftermath of last year’s EU Referendum. The comparison of these infamously restrictive regimes to our current political reality is jarring, but scarily truthful; a fact further cemented by the performers’ (flawless) miming of Brexit-related sound-bites and their rendition of the (impeccably titled) song ‘Nigel Farage Has Never Been An Elected UK MP’.
But, terrifying political truths aside, there’s something just a little obvious about the execution of Avoidable Climbing. We all know about the shocking human rights abuses perpetrated by the North Korean government, and stating facts and figures to an audience who is likely to be already politically engaged seems like a missed opportunity to create more innovative theatre. Although the play emerges to become a hugely entertaining and thought-provoking whole, I can’t help feeling that what Avoidable Climbing needs is a push beyond the political surface.