B, theatre review: Revolutionary ideals have clownish ends

Revolutionary Spirit: Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Marcela and Paul Kaye as José Miguel
Revolutionary Spirit: Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Marcela and Paul Kaye as José Miguel

Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón savours the absurdities of politics.

In B, here receiving its world premiere, he ponders the way revolutionary ideals mingle with naivety and thrill-seeking. In what’s supposedly a police state, anxious Marcela (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and her fellow anarchist Alejandra (Danusia Samal) wait in a safe-house for the more experienced José Miguel, who’s due to deliver them a bomb. The plan is to set it off outside a bank in the dead of night when no one’s around, as a “protest against everything” — injustice, the prison system, assassinations.

When their contact arrives he challenges them to be more ambitious. In the hands of Paul Kaye he’s an excitingly abrasive figure, but the women are uncomfortable with his violent ideas. Amid jittery talk and an avalanche of codewords — the bomb is known as both a cheese and a cow — the gulf between their purposes becomes a source of comedy, made more droll by the interfering attentions of neighbour Carmen (Sarah Niles).

When the main trio at last disclose their motives, they explain themselves with grinding explicitness. Before that their clownish uncertainty and claustrophobic arguments recall Chris Morris’s 2010 film Four Lions, though the play is rarely so funny and perceptive, and Sam Pritchard’s staccato staging, calculated to heighten our sense of the characters’ jerky amateurism and tense relationships, often makes the action feel like an undramatic exercise.

Until Oct 21, 020 7565 5000, royalcourttheatre.com