Having bought a script and looked at the opening pages, I wasn’t quite ready for the humour of the opening exchanges and then watching the opening sequence began to wonder if the “best political writer of his generation” hadn’t wandered into the The Cambridge footlights.
I found it difficult to believe Harry Melling as The Commander, too cartoon, like a Government information film, no real sense of authority or power. All of which was compounded by wide-eyed Mark Arends as Smith, using timing, as if to reinforce his innocence, the scale of the task before him, the Met hierarchy.
As someone who was in his 20’s in the 70’s and spent time in both Leeds and London, I struggled to make sense of the narrative of impending doom and perhaps more clarity of narrative and / or direction might have helped. Increasing the sense that, yes I had heard of Bader Meinhoff, but where was the threat to the UK? Not helped as the action became increasingly Pythonesque, manic and even more difficult to follow. Though the gentleman next to me laughed his head off.
The surrealist and freewheeling nature of the second half, ironically brought more clarity and enjoyment with the skills of Melling and Pearl Chanda, particularly strong. More inventive in its staging with the use of pop songs and tv adverts and a growing plethora of ideas and arguments, was matched by rising emotional differences, between both partners and comrades. The intensity was both well controlled and believable and the links between the first and second halves cleverly worked. Having found the first half somewhat implausible, the ensemble playing of Melling, Chanda, Arends and Lizzy Watts in the second half drew you in emotionally and the denouement all the more powerful as the real facts of the gang are revealed.