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Reviews West End & Central Published 18 August 2017

Review: The Majority at the National Theatre

Until 28th August 2017

Agree or disagree? William Drew reviews Rob Drummond’s new play that gives the audience the chance to vote.

William Drew
The Majority at the National Theatre. Photo: Ellie Kurttz.

The Majority at the National Theatre. Photo: Ellie Kurttz.

In The Majority, the audience form the majority. There is only one performer. He is the minority. Overwhelmingly so. That performer is Rob Drummond. He is playing a character called Rob, a playwright, whose life and work bears a striking resemblance to that of the playwright Rob Drummond also performing this play. At times, he is telling us (the audience, the majority) a story. At others, he is giving us instructions or setting us moral dilemmas that we respond to by voting. The votes are always binary choices: agree/disagree.

It is safe to say that the majority of the people in the room are not called Rob Drummond and that the majority also have voting devices around their necks (diligently handed out by the National Front of House team, clearly concerned that someone might be disenfranchised on press night). Rob Drummond doesn’t have a voting device. His vote doesn’t count. And yet all the rules are made by him. The text is his. He holds all the cards.

He tells us that he didn’t vote in the Scottish Independence referendum but went down to George Square the day after as a gesture of solidarity to those who were disappointed. He never explicitly says that he would have voted “yes” but it is heavily implied. This is where he meets Eric: older, drunk, hard left, pro-independence, very angry. After a brief exchange in which Rob lies and tells Eric that he voted Yes, Eric hands Rob his wallet before launching himself into the crowd. Rob waits two hours. Eric doesn’t come back.

Eric (or at least Eric’s wallet) is the threshold for Rob’s heroic quest from apathy to radicalism. Eric becomes a mentor of sorts for the despondent Rob. But more than this, Eric or what Eric represents functions as a way out of a bout of depression. The decision not to vote wasn’t laziness, it is implied, but a total lack of optimism about the systems that surround Rob. He makes an off-the-cuff remark about being at a protest on a Saturday afternoon when he’d usually be sitting at home in his pants. It gets a laugh. Is this dark humour allowing the darkness of the character’s mind to hide in plain sight, though? This sense of dis-ease runs throughout the story. What is really motivating Rob’s fascination with Eric? What isn’t he telling us? Increasingly, we sense that we’re in the company of an unreliable narrator.

Rob, however, isn’t the kind of unreliable narrator to simply give himself away by accident. There are several moments where the suspension of disbelief is pushed very quickly to breaking point while we might not be paying attention. Blink and you’ll miss it. It keeps happening though. What is he trying to make us see? There are the other tiny moments where Rob explicitly tells us that he is changing the order of events to create a better story. By drawing attention to his minor acts of unreliability, he seems to be playfully distracting us from the more significant acts of deception at play. Leading our gaze where he wants it. Much like a magician.

All this feels deliberate, but where it leads is a difficult question. A glance at the programme suggests a totally different narrative still involving an antagonist called Eric. Is this intentional or the result of an overly eager marketing department wanting text to print before the show was ready? Is everyone in on this? What can we believe?

Whatever the truth – and I have no idea where the truth ends and the fiction begins, although like everyone in the audience I had my suspicions – within the context of the story we’re told, it makes for a fascinating tension. You replay moments you took at face value and wonder where they sit within this mixture of fiction and reality.

However, there are two things happening in The Majority: the story being told and the voting. Whether relating to our beliefs or hypothetical ethical dilemmas, the votes are interesting in that they elucidate the work’s exploration of democratic action. If these decisions unquestionably reached outside the world of the theatre and offered choices with the potential to impinge on the liberties of real life individuals, the audience – the vast majority of whom are self-declared liberals – could understandably feel a degree of discomfort. Yet the dilemmas presented are not straightforward choices in the context of this mixture of fiction and reality. We are being asked to make a call on both the choice itself and the world in which that choice lives. These are high stakes choices, without a doubt, but are they high stakes in the real world or high stakes within the fictional world? If we think we know that this is fiction, how much are we willing to bet on that?

So, while previously we saw no need to be anything but honest in our anonymous votes, suddenly we’re given a real choice: do we choose what will make for a better story or what we feel is morally right, assuming there are indeed real world consequences? Or do we assume that this is all fiction and therefore whatever gives us the best story is fair game? Instead of looking inside myself, I found that I was part of a team playing a mind game with the play and the playwright. What’s his hand? Is mine stronger? After all, I have agency: I can vote.

There’s so much bubbling under the surface that when the final dilemma comes and is thrown out to the audience – a dilemma so heavily weighted that going against Rob feels like an act of petulance, defiance or plain old mischief – you don’t believe it is the final note of the piece. The moment when all the subtle bombs peppered throughout the evening will be brilliantly and elaborately detonated has not arrived. Instead, The Majority has a strangely trite conclusion that doesn’t appear to do justice to what came before. It’s frustrating but maybe it is meant to be. Perhaps the real conclusion is not what is said but how something messy, complex and inscrutable gets funnelled into a binary choice, a sound-bite, a slogan. There’s only one way to find out. Get along to the National and watch The Majority. Make your choices. Use your vote. Your experience will, after all, be very different to mine.

The Majority is on until 28 August 2017 at the National Theatre. Click here for more details. 

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William Drew

William Drew is a writer and games designer based in London. He makes work at the intersection between live performance and gaming as Venice as a Dolphin and an associate of Coney. As well as Exeunt, he has written for Wired UK, Rock Paper Shotgun and Unwinnable. In the past, he worked at the Royal Court Theatre and the Young Vic and he's been a script reader for the National Theatre, Hampstead and Traverse Theatres. You can find out more about his work here: http://www.veniceasadolphin.com

Review: The Majority at the National Theatre Show Info


Directed by David Overend

Written by Rob Drummond

Cast includes Rob Drummond

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