A black box. A hangman’s noose. The lights go up on our solo actor – Rufus Love, the title character, actor and playwright – speaking from the gallows as he is about to be hanged, whilst we hear the sound of a crowd baying for his blood. Except, as we discover minutes later, he is not about to be hanged. He is merely at Speakers’ Corner, where a public gallows once stood, imagining it.

Credit: Dom Hall

This is the first in a series of false starts that renders this play, though admirable in its aims, incoherent to watch. Taking aim at too many targets, it struggles to hit just one. As Rufus arrives in the world of Speakers’ Corner, we are drawn into a world of any and all opinions – the only rule is they must be extreme. Rufus initially arrives as the only person who’s not a ‘weirdo’, as he puts it, yet slowly becomes dragged into the mob mentality. It’s an insightful comment on the political landscape we inhabit, yet it lacks focus. A large chunk of the play is devoted to a self-deprecating judgement – complete with wig and gavel – of Love because of his middle-class upbringing. Of course, anyone can be judged in a public forum for anything – and they frequently are – but played for laughs, this feels like low-hanging fruit in a play with much more serious topics just being skirted. A section on online communities built around suicide, for example, promises an interesting extension of the mob concept but simply doesn’t go anywhere. As Rufus gets dragged into the world of the mob, it feels inevitable, but not like anything, in particular, has been revealed to us. Love attempts to deal with too many things in one hour – a sharper focus would help to give the play more bite.

Speakers’ Corner is odd because it seems to advocate against the sort of political hobby-horsing that one might find in Hyde Park, yet is undoubtedly a soapbox piece of theatre. Love makes an occasional joke about his own hypocrisy, but again this is something that might bear further focus. 

With that said, Love has a really lovely use of language throughout the script, a knack for using comedy without detracting from the seriousness of the play, and delivers a strong and wordy performance over a no doubt exhausting hour. It’s a work with plenty of potential – it speaks to the current moment, but it still does not quite feel certain of what exactly it wants to talk about. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Speakers’ Corner is at Hope Theatre until the 27th of May – tickets and info.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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