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‘Powerful & engaging piece of work’: PHOENIX – English Touring Theatre ★★★★

Mike Bartlett’s new monologue effectively explores how people in power abuse the rules set in place for everyone – except seemingly for those in positions of trust.

This short but sharp piece by Mike Bartlett, seemingly inspired by a certain Dominic Cummings’ disregard for the lockdown rules (although there is no mention of poor eyesight or Barnard Castle), explores the breakdown of trust between those in power and ordinary people.

We meet Tim (Bertie Carvel) as he is on a road trip with his wife and daughter to his parents house, breaking the rules currently in place. He is having a few moments to himself, thinking about his life up until this point and attempts to justify some of his more unscrupulous actions and how he can get around the public’s anger. He is a selfish and arrogant individual that the audience certainly has no sympathy for.

Written to form part of Signal Fires, a project conceived by ETT and Headlong, Bartlett sharply and vividly delves into the mind of this character as he tries to think of a way out of this situation without having to resign his position. By being told in the third person, it feels detached as if an attempt to see things his way objectively – but Tim’s careless attitude towards everyone and everything including his wife and daughter seeps through every thought. There are flashes of moments in which you think that perhaps he will realise that his behaviour is wrong, but by the end there is still no sense of remorse.

Every memory that is created, every excuse or argument Tim makes is richly described and makes the audience genuinely believe they are inside his head – particularly when he thinks about his personal life. Everything that is discussed is designed to get a reaction from the audience – and it certainly highlights a number of emotions. This particularly shown as he feels that the thousands of deaths that perhaps his actions will cause was worth it given that he has saved other lives in the course of his work.

Phoenix is a powerful and engaging piece of work that is ruthless from start to finish – but perfectly encapsulates why the public have so much difficulty about trusting those in power.

By Emma Clarendon

Phoenix is available to listen to here.


from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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