An ambitious young documentary director, Chloe, bluffs her way into the office of a day-time TV commissioner, and sets in motion a high-stakes thriller about policing in the UK. The Domestic Extremists is a new play by Dan Davies, directed by Ben Borowiecki at the Space, a converted church on the Isle of Dogs. Chloe sees her documentary as a lesson in economics on the privatisation of universities, illustrated with whizzy infographics. But once she wins over the reluctant producer, Chris, he grabs the opportunity to revisit a documentary he made back in the 1980s: an undercover expose of the police that all but destroyed his career. Chris’s days of undercover filming are behind him, he is now stuck making day-time TV programmes with titles like Better Bathrooms. But using Chloe’s footage, he shapes a documentary with the power to bring down the government.
Dan Davies is one of the smartest and most worldly writers around. The Arcola theatre recently showed the first act of his new play about migrants escaping Africa on leaky boats, heading for containment camps in Lampedusa. The Domestic Extremists is another ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ story, turned into a driving thriller with sharp dialogue and complex, natural characters.
The play has picked up great reviews. It deserves a transfer to a bigger theatre – though there is something about the current venue, beneath the space-age skyline of docklands, which adds an extra frisson to the production. The cast is excellent, especially Jonathan Leinmuller, as Chris, and Sadie Parsons, who plays a sardonic video editor, conspiring with Chris to hijack Chloe’s documentary.
Sadie Parsons also plays another five roles, demonstrating an extraordinary skill for chameleon-like mutations. These performances take place semi off-stage, played directly to camera to be transmitted on the TV sets that are stacked around Isobel Power Smith’s low-rent but effective set. Borowiecki and Power Smith’s production company, Noumena, sees itself as an experimental, political and immersive theatre project. In truth, the experimental side of the production is lightly-worn: this is a tight, naturalistic thriller. But the interplay between Parson’s astonishing quick-fire changes and the realistic unfolding story suggests a quiet kind of innovation – a way of seamlessly blending very different theatrical registers. And in a story of cops and chameleons, where no one is quite who they seem, Parsons performances somehow hinge the show.
Rating: Four Stars