Where were you on 8th November 2016?
So asks the marketing for Election, a short piece of original writing by Kimberley Chiu which is showing at the Burton Taylor studio for the rest of fourth week. Five friends have gathered to watch the results of that fateful US election, but their evening is not spent quietly crunching numbers as the votes come in.
When I heard the premise for this show I was excited, because I remember very well where I was on 8th November 2016. Along with a party of friends I was glued to a small laptop screen, watching into the early hours as the results were announced. Although at the beginning of the night I knew nothing about the US electoral system, after a couple of hours I was concocting mathematical forecasts fuelled by a couple of drinks and a fervent terror that the map might turn more Trump red than Clinton blue. The eager anxiety of the whole experience, I anticipated, would make a perfect setting for emotional conflict. The execution of this promising concept, however, was disappointing. The titular election barely featured, and I would have forgotten about it altogether were it not for Sam (Madhulika Murali) intermittently intoning the next state to declare.
Chiu’s vision was clear: Trump’s election is a travesty for people of colour, and Christianity must answer for its complicity. This structure is clarified by an extended split-stage sequence which alternates a debate about the first issue with an argument about the second. On the left, Kit (Mary Lobo) recounts Arthur (Joshua Portway) with her difficult experience as a woman of colour; on the right, Shaun (Jack Blowers) berates Rori (Beata Kuczynska) for the weak, credulous idealism of her Christian beliefs. Yet the continual chopping between the two halves deprives both exchanges of their potential for emotional impact, and neither argument moves towards any kind of resolution.
The production’s five actors did their best with an unflattering script, putting their heart into the emotions they were given and committing to circuitous arguments. The highlight of the production was certainly Mary Lobo’s performance as Kit, truly the show’s protagonist. Her unquenchable anger was biting, at times moving. The shining moment of the play was when she stepped forward to lay out the tangible struggles she was facing: the compliments about her English, the predictably white, male reading lists, being asked to order “oriental vegetables” from the Hall menu.
In the end, the audience was left empathising most with Sam. She sat in the centre of the stage, never involved in either argument, and trying to redirect the conversation towards the election. Except for her American nationality Sam was an undeveloped character, and her most engaging moment was, unfortunately, when she announced that she was leaving.