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Writing a ‘political play’, Pressure Points by Jack Stanley

Pressure Points is a brand-new play written by Jack Stanley, which runs at the White Bear Theatre from Tuesday 13-Saturday 17 November, and explores the world of university politics and youth activism.

When you say you’re seeing, reading, maybe you’re even in a ‘political play’, there’s a certain look that crosses people’s eyes. You know the one. That sort of, like, slight glazing over. The nod and look that goes ‘oh right, that’s cool’. It’s a political play, so they assume it must be either a. a bit boring or b. just a chance for the writer to rant about the world for two hours before everyone leaves, and talks for all of, what, two minutes about how refreshing it is to see that sort of discussion in the theatre before they catch that last Chiltern Railways service back to Aylesbury. I myself love political plays - but hey, I know a lot of people don’t share that enthusiasm. Don’t worry, I’m fine with that. I’m over it.

When I started writing my play ‘Pressure Points’, I didn’t want it to be a ‘political play’, for those reasons above. For a long time, I didn’t really refer to it as that. Instead I did that slightly convoluted thing where I referred to it as a play that ‘happened to sort of, kind of, talk about politics’. The thing is, the last play I wrote was really not that political. It happened to be about a couple having dinner with a cult preparing for the end of the world. Obviously. There were political elements I suppose - the idea of the world ending in nuclear armageddon suddenly seemed a little too plausible in summer 2017 - but ultimately, it was about people escaping from society and the structures that come with that. It was about what happens when people refuse to engage with the world.

For this one, I kind of wanted to cover something different i.e. the people who engage with the world the most. Who try to make a difference based on what they believe in. I’ve always enjoyed politics and I found the rise in grassroots pressure groups and how they affect mainstream politics over the past few years an interesting subject. It felt like something I wanted to write a play about. I then thought back on my university days, and how it was at that point in your life you felt you could do anything. Change things. Change the world. You had an actual student loan, and you weren’t afraid to use it. The bubble of a university campus felt like the perfect environment for a narrative arc about pressure groups; how they start, what fuels them, and what can be their downfall, because everything on campus is the real world but on a smaller scale. University societies become a test run for the real structures of authority beyond, while also being the places where people’s political ideals are most prominent. Before they encounter the harsh realities of the real world. It really felt like there was a play there.

When I started writing it at the end of last year, I wanted to respond to the assumption of what a political play should be. Despite the best political plays often avoiding these issues, people still have expectations. It’s going to be slow. Dense. Full of detail about a world that people already find distant. I wanted to try and write something that was fast-paced, funny, and most of all, reflective of the voices of young people. So many political stories focus on those who get into power who are, inevitably, in their thirties and up. And yet the conversation in the news over the last few years has been all about how young people have been engaged in politics again. In the late noughties, the general assumption was young people really couldn’t care less. But with the re-energising of Labour’s grassroots movement and the current push for a People’s Vote, that’s just not the case anymore.

And it’s that political demographic that this play focusses on. ‘Pressure Points’ moves through its story at a pace, reflecting the energy and passion of the lead characters, students Fran and Tara. They are two activists who set up a new ‘movement’ on their uni campus and we follow them as they experience every achievement and mistake with their group, as they try to work out whether those dreams and ideals they have at the university could ever work in the real world. Whether those ideals could ever turn into something more.

As I said, I know not everyone loves ‘political plays’. For some people, that’s not going to change. I know that. But several drafts and a reading later, I can’t wait for the production, directed by the brilliant Nadia Papachronopoulou and featuring a fantastic cast of four, to bring my play about politics to the stage. What I’m basically trying to say is I’m finally happy to call it a ‘political play’. I’m cool with that. Even if I do still get the ‘oh, right’ look.

 

Written by Jack Stanley.

Pressure Points
Tuesday 13-Saturday 17 November, 8.30pm
whitebeartheatre.co.uk