Review: Tremors at the King’s Head Theatre

You do have to wonder sometimes what makes people go into politics. Despite certain obvious benefits, it seems often a very thankless career, exposing you to public scorn, ridicule and disdain the minute you mess up or show the slightest sign of weakness. Because of the nature of the job, politicians become public property – and the public has the power to make or break them on a whim.

This is the very predicament in which Tom Crowe, the Labour MP at the centre of Tim Cook’s new play Tremors, finds himself. After a private encounter in a hotel room with a senior party member goes viral, he takes the advice of his PR advisor Lisa and flees to Eastbourne. But his hometown is in chaos, with riots and vandalism led by anti-austerity activists threatening to tear the town apart – and a dark secret from Tom’s past that could derail the attempt to salvage his future.

Though written a few years ago, by chance the staging of Tremors by Broken Silence Theatre has fallen during one of the most extraordinary eras that many of us can remember in British politics. It’s an indication of how disillusioned and suspicious we’ve become – not really a surprise after watching our politicians routinely turn on each other over recent months – that a character like Tom, who genuinely just wants to help people, seems entirely too good to be true. Even so, William Vasey gives a believable performance, managing to convey both the wide-eyed idealist, who followed his heart into politics, and the ambitious social climber, whose accent these days is more Oxford than Eastbourne.

Tom’s one of four characters who never get fully developed, despite good performances from the cast. Much like in politics, each of them comes to represent a particular ideology, which overrides their individual personalities, and consequently we never really get to know them as the 60-minute play unfolds. At the opposite end of the scale from Tom is his old friend Chris (Tim Cook), who has the same passion to make the world better, but very different ideas on how to achieve it. And then there are the women: Lisa (Vicky Winning), a hard-nosed ice queen who doesn’t do feelings, remorse or indeed anything that might get in the way of her own career interests. Her opposite number is Marie (Cerys Knighton), Chris’ sister; her activism days are firmly behind her, and now all she cares about is finding her brother before he does something stupid.

There’s a lot going on for such a short piece, and some of the plot threads at times become a little tangled – Tom’s career crisis and concealed homosexuality, the decline of his coastal hometown, Chris’ struggles to come to terms with his past or the country’s future, and the revelation of the secret that binds the three old friends together. And despite some helpful BBC News announcements, the timeline of the play isn’t always entirely clear; some early flashback scenes only really make sense in the closing minutes.

Though not without some issues, Tremors is an interesting premise and definitely has potential for development into a longer play examining the issues in greater detail. What connects all the various plot threads is a simmering anger over the growing distance between we the people and those who put themselves forward to represent us – which is something I think most of us can identify with. Judging by recent events, that’s not an issue that seems likely to go away any time soon, so here’s hoping Tremors will return to shake things up in the future.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Interview: Tim Cook, Tremors

With politics on everyone’s mind in the run-up to the general election, Broken Silence Theatre’s new play Tremors, about a disgraced MP, could hardly be more timely. Written by the company’s Artistic Director, and award-winning playwright, Tim Cook, the play receives its world premiere at London’s King’s Head Theatre later this month.

Tremors is set in a modern day dystopian Britain where arson and rioting are rife,” explains Tim. “The plot revolves around a rising star of the Labour Party, a young MP called Tom Crowe, who is involved in a scandal in a hotel room. In an attempt to rebuild his image he travels back to his seaside hometown of Eastbourne to make amends. But he finds himself caught between saving either the community, which is very close to breaking point, or his career.”

Although the timing of the production – just a couple of weeks after the election – may appear deliberate, in fact the play’s been in development for some time. “I actually wrote the first draft of this play over six years ago,” says Tim. “Then I came to rewrite it for a rehearsed reading at the Old Red Lion Theatre last November. It’s strange, but I didn’t have to rewrite the play for 2017 as much as I thought I would. Although a lot has happened in the world of politics in the last six years, I feel like nothing has changed at the same time. Having said that, everything that’s happened has definitely influenced the direction of this production.

“First and foremost I want the audience to enjoy the show, but I also hope each audience member goes away and thinks about their own relationship to politics. Tremors isn’t a play that sides with any particular political party – that’s not the point. It’s a character-driven interrogation of modern politics, from the point of view of a young idealistic MP. It’s asking the question whether we should demand more from those in positions of power.” 

Tim’s inspiration for Tremors came from researching news stories, particularly those about politicians and protest groups. “It’s not based on any specific politician, but I wanted to absorb lots of stories and lots of information and then go off and create a character that embodies everything good and bad about modern politics. On the one hand he’s a saviour, on the other hand he’s a villain. It depends on which side of the fence you sit. In the world of the play he’s seen as one of the only MPs left in the country with a conscience. You see him wrestling with a moral dilemma in the play – that probably comes from my own desire to see a politician who really cares. I also wanted to represent Eastbourne on stage, having grown up there myself. Location plays a huge part in the tone of the play. The seaside. The pier. All that stuff. There’s something unique and strangely isolating about growing up in a British seaside town.”

Tim’s excited to be returning to the King’s Head, which holds special memories for him: “It feels great. The King’s Head have always been very supportive of Broken Silence and my work as a playwright. My play Crushed, about the 2010 London student protests, transferred to the King’s Head after winning the Best New Play Award at Brighton Fringe in 2015. Tremors, in many ways, feels like an indirect sequel to Crushed, so it’s brilliant to come back two years later and premiere the show at the same theatre. The King’s Head are really bold with their programming too – it’s great to play alongside so many other fantastic shows this summer.”

Most of the Tremors cast worked together on Broken Silence’s Necessity, which transferred to the Bread & Roses Theatre from Brighton earlier this year. “We’re lucky to have an exceptional company for this production, including Broken Silence Associate Artist Cerys Knighton and East 15 graduate Vicky Winning,” says Tim. “William Vasey joined the cast for our reading at the Old Red Lion, and plays the lead role of Tom Crowe. He absolutely has the presence of an early career MP – a sort of Blair/Cameron hybrid – and I think his performance in the play is remarkable.

“Paul Macauley, writer and director of Necessity, also returns to direct Tremors. I love working with Paul – we’ve worked together for four years now – he’s a great director of actors. I really value our team, because I think building long-term relationships in the industry is very important.”

Tim founded Broken Silence Theatre in 2013, after graduating from RADA. “We’re based in Brighton and exclusively produce new writing,” he explains. “We care about promoting unheard voices and creating work that is urgent and vital. We also place a specific focus on the quality of the writing and performances; that’s what our aesthetic is based on. We’ve managed to produce work on a very regular basis – Tremors will be our twelfth full production in four years – and each production has grown in terms of scale and quality. We want to continue that over the next few years and work with as many new writers as possible.

“And we’ve got lots coming up this year. In August we’ve got another new show – yet to be announced – coming to the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley, which I’m really excited about. We’re also planning a brand new London showcase for regional writers, helping playwrights from outside London bring their work to the capital. On top of that we’ve also been workshopping two other plays, which we hope to premiere over the next twelve or so months. So it’s going to be a really exciting year for us!”

Tremors is at the King’s Head Theatre on 25th-26th June and 2nd-3rd July.