HELL YES I'M TOUGH ENOUGH at London's Park90 Theatre
Ben Hood (Ned Contraband) and Ben Alderton (David Carter): photo Robert Workman  

Directed by Roland Reynolds and written by Ben Alderton, 'Hell Yes I'm Tough Enough' takes us back to 7 May 2015 and the political scandal where the huge discrepancy between the opinion polls and the actual electoral result came to light. Undoubtedly the sentiments and themes could just as well be applied to our modern times of a broken political system, unrest, distrust and dare I say, the 'B' word. It was because of the Conservative majority of that election that meant Cameron was able to fulfil a manifesto commitment to renegotiate the British membership of the European Union and the subsequent referendum of 2016. And look where that has placed the UK now! And so it was, with somewhat mixed feelings, that I visited the Park Theatre 90 to see Alderton's production. What could he offer that we are not hearing or reading on a daily basis?

We are in an age where social media places both enormous pressure and huge influence on the public and to that end it is ruthlessly exploited by those who wish to self serve, to gain public approval in order to elevate their own status and gain power. Where is the line crossed? How can a system so broken be fixed?

Alderton states: 'Hell Yes I'm Tough Enough' is a political satire by Fragen theatre Company taking a tongue-in-cheek look at the unjust, corrupt and farcical pantomime that is British politics.' But that is an understatement. It is a cruel but justified expose into the vile and corrupt world of politics and in case we don't get it Alderton uses caricature to make it blindingly obvious. With overworked humour into names such as Nick Clog, Ned Contraband and Nigel Garage, not a character is spared. All are repugnant, apart from the naive newly graduated recruit, Patrick. And because of that, the credibility is overshadowed and we might laugh but does it fully resonate?

This fast paced production, whose script gushes rather than flows, places great demands on the cast who frequently trip and stumble over their words as they sprint onward to maintain momentum (excuse the pun). There is no doubt that they perform with energy and enthusiasm but voices  rise too high in their scrabbling to spit out the words. This sometimes reduces the play to a reading rather than a  performance.

So back to the play. It is the end of the failed five year coalition between Alderton's David Carter and James Bryant's Nick Clog. The 'red' team is now led by the incompetent and frankly pathetic (younger brother) Ned Contraband (Ben Hood) who is torn between the calming influence of his trusted guru Will (Michael Edwards) and ruthless, stop at nothing PR Sharon/Shaz Slaughter (Cassandra Hercules). Similarly, on the 'blue' team is the vile, bullying Carter and his team (mainly female) of PR controllers Glynnis (Annie Tyson) and new protegee Poppy (Venice Van Someren). On a side point, why is that when females are playing strong characters they must be portrayed in a crude and unnecessarily brutal manner, continually emasculating their male counterpoints in order to prove they are as good as, if not better! But I digress.

Enter newly graduated Patrick who has been invited to join the blue team and assist them towards change, to reinvent themselves as honest and trustworthy politicians who will work for the good of all and bring about much needed social reform. But of course that is idealistic and his eyes are opened to the seedy internal workings of the political machine, where honesty and truth matter little. It is about performance, of image (ad hominem). When on camera, the leaders must adopt an outward appearance to convince the gullible public who are desperate to believe, to have a truth that sits comfortably on their shoulders. It is not about truth. And this is shown even more so when the cameras are off and Alderton exaggerates the puerile, playground tactics of this vile group.

With Act 1 focusing on humour as the main medium, the second Act is far move serious. Despite Ned Contraband's closing speech in Act 1, reminiscent of Henry V's St Crispin Day speech, Alderton has felt the need to spell out his revelations more fully in the play's later stages. In total the running time stretches to 2 hours 15 minutes but could have been reduced. Even the fun and glitz of Janitor Corbz (Edward Halsted) sort of missed the point. With an ending that mirrored student satire the attempt at sincerity fell flat. Corbz's plea of 'These are people's lives. These circus antics must cease' failed to move. The audience was tired and it was time for the play to close.

This was a brave attempt at send up but I do feel that Alderton tried too hard, both in the caricatures and in his pains to remind us repeatedly of the corruption and deceit of those who trick and lie in order to self promote. We got it! But we got it quite a while before the end of the play and in that respect became immune to the message.

Venue: Park 90, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace,Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates:24 April to 18 May 2019.
Performances: Mon-Sat 7.45 pm. Thurs/Sat matinees 3.15 pm
Access performances: audio described Thurs 16 May 7.45 pm, touch tour 6 pm
Prices: Previews £14.50. Standard £18. Concessions £16.50. Park Up Members (24 April - 1 May) £10, Groups of 10 with a free 11th ticket.
Age Guidance: 18+
Booking: www.parktheatre.co.uk 0207870 6876 with a 10% telephone booking fee