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Feed the Beast (Birmingham Repertory Theatre)

Steve Thompson's new play looks into the heart of Downing Street

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Kacey Ainsworth and Gerald Kyd
© Patrick Baldwin

With a general election just weeks away, this political drama could not be more timely. Examining the complex relationship between politicians and the press, it takes us into the heart of 10 Downing Street.

When 'rank outsider' Michael gains the top spot in the country he is determined to play it fair. He won't court the newspapers with trivia and gossip – he will only share policies. His new head of media Scott initially agrees to toe the line but when the coverage get dirty this spin doctor knows only one response - to fight back.

And as the odds stack against a prime minister who actually wants to deliver on his promises, retaining the moral high ground becomes increasingly difficult.

Writer Steve Thompson has honed his skills on television shows such as Sherlock, Silk and Doctor Who and it shows with rapid scene changes, heated dialogue, quick character turnarounds and plenty of drama.

At times Thompson asks a lot of suspension of disbelief from his audience. It is hard to accept that anyone could reach this high in office without having the faintest idea how to handle an exclusive interview with a reporter. And one can't help but question whether he could have kept his family 'scandal' out of the papers until this time.

But there is certainly plenty of food for thought as the balance shifts back and forth between the two powers. Directed by Peter Rowe and designed by Libby Watson, all the action takes place in the Prime Minister's office with scene changes filled with soundbites, news clippings and projections onto the walls to keep up the pace.

Gerald Kyd plays a very likeable if slightly unstable Prime Minister. You can't help but hope he can somehow pull it off. But in the hands of Shaun Mason's particularly unpleasant Scott, the leader is very much putty to be manipulated.

Kacey Ainsworth is dependable Chief of Staff Sally whose long friendship with the PM is sorely tested when he begins to push the boundaries.

The media is largely summed up in one character – columnist Heather played by Amy Marston. This cool customer is more than ready to play the Prime Minister's game and proves to be the abler statesperson when the chips are down.

The remainder of the cast switch roles as easily as a change of costume – running through family, the military, fellow ministers, guests and other political figures in this two hour drama.

Presented jointly by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Ipswich New Wolsey Theatre, Feed the Beast can't help but leave you just a little uneasy. Is it really that simple to veer principles off course and just how much power does the press wield?

Feed the Beast runs at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 2 May and at Ispswich's New Wolsey Theatre from 6-16 May