Dear NSA agents reading this review: Thank you for the page views! If you have some time off for the holidays I recommend you head down to The Studio Theatre to check out Edgar & Annabel, directed by Holly Twyford. Don’t worry; I’m recommending it to everyone (government spy or otherwise), so you’ll be in good company.
Written by Sam Holford and premiering here in the US as part of Studio’s New British Invasion Festival, Edgar & Annabel is about the titular couple, a pair of young professionals with a home straight out of the Ikea catalog (courtesy of set designer Debra Booth), dealing with a lack of recycling bags, whether to order take-out, and those horrible terrorists trying to undermine this great country.
Or at least, that’s what much of the dialogue suggests.
What the play is actually about is a pair of dissidents living in the ultimate surveillance state. With every home under automated electronic surveillance, members of the opposition party must literally read from scripts in order to maintain the illusion of normalcy under any circumstance. Edgar and Annabel aren’t even real people – each is a cover, used by a succession of people to protect the assets hidden in the home. When Nick (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), the latest Edgar, comes “home” for the first time, a panicked Annabel pulls a knife on the complete stranger. Script in hand, Nick has the dual task of convincing both the authorities and Annabel – really Marianne (Emily Kester) – that he can be trusted.
And that’s the dance that the characters dance throughout the show. Edgar and Annabel have to maintain their home life; Nick and Marianne have to deal with each other both as a couple and as colleagues in the resistance. Twyford and her cast deserve some sort of medal for managing to make sense of it all, balancing moment-to-moment comedy with the high political and personal stakes of the overarching plot. It’s fun to watch Nick improvise around mistakes in the script while Marianne silently flips out at him, and it’s not any less funny knowing that the two could be dragged away by the police if anything goes wrong. “When you realize that the two are performing for their resistance handler as well (a satisfyingly sinister Lisa Hodsoll), it boggles the mind.”
The action is occurring on at least two levels on every scene, and even the most mundane activities are given a political meaning. Without giving too much away, Ebrahimzadeh and Kester are joined by Lauren E. Banks (Tara) and Jacob Yeh (Marc), and I can promise you that you’ll never think about karaoke the same way again .
Holcroft’s work certainly carries shades of Brazil and 1984, and if the satire doesn’t quite reach that level – or honestly, to the average episode of The Daily Show – it doesn’t make the piece any less relevant. It’s estimated that the average person in the UK is captured by 70 CCTV cameras every day. Here in the US, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are alternately lionized and vilified for leaking information on the government’s surveillance efforts. Edgar & Annabel asks a lot of pointed questions about life in a panopticon, and it does so with humor and style. When the government is everywhere, everything is political.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.