The comedy focuses on four Southerners who are trying to write a play about Brexit for the Edinburgh Fringe, and the performance switches between “behind the scenes” moments, where the actors are seemingly playing themselves, and rehearsals of the play, in which the characters are somewhere far out at sea on a raft, unaware what day it is, literally trying to tug the UK away from Europe. Those fed up of the constant Brexit newsflashes, however, will be relieved, as while our current political “hiccup”, to put it mildly, does indeed form the backbone of the play, it doesn’t dominate it, and instead just features in often light-hearted references from which jokes can springboard. The physical set, adorned with a Union Jack and custard creams, indeed sets the tone for the play, which addresses the quintessentially British as the boys contemplate just why it is that Britain (and even Margate) is so dear to so many of us. To me, the play’s pretext allows the humour to draw parallels to the constant bickering of the group of mismatching lads in the Inbetweeners, including attempts to sound “hip” during some hilarious vlogs produced on the raft, and the stereotypical Brits on holiday atmosphere created in many of the Carry On films. This description, however, really doesn’t do the play justice; the writing is quite simply fantastic, including witty references to the fourth wall and even remarks about the naivety and lack of intelligence of audience. Sat in the front row, I in fact was very nearly hit by a stray sausage roll.
The People’s Boat is, however, not just a comedy; as a theatre production it showcases some truly exceptional acting, with each of the four actors making their characters ultimately incredibly tangible and distinct, and demonstrating their ability to play a range of emotions. This is most evident in their instantaneous yet flawless switching between characters and moods as the play swaps between the “behind the scenes” and writers' room settings. Professional is really a word that comes to mind’ it’s hard to imagine that the play was born only a few months ago.
Alongside the jokes, the play does reference some deeper issues, including racism and the importance of protecting what you love. The incredulity of Brexit and current political thought is really emphasised by the characters’ genuine belief that towing Britain away from Europe is a practical solution; let’s just hope that BoJo and his team don’t get too inspired by this show.
The People’s Boat is the second venture by Moaning Toad Productions, which consists of recent Newcastle graduates Luke Bateman, Jack Hilton and Chris Whyte alongside friend Elliott Williams, who between them have previously performed at various venues across both Newcastle and London, including with NUTS. Moaning Toad Productions’ first venture, Puncture, performed to a sold-out crowd at the Northern Stage in March, was greatly acclaimed, and it is no surprise that the People’s Boat has already received high praise from reviewers including the Scotsman.
Ultimately the acting is flawless and the script is genius. It’s very rare that I laugh quite so much as a play. Even if you’re sick of Brexit, the People’s Boat is a must-watch.
Hopefully the actors agree that it was well worth the 30 Lime Wedges, 104 Sun Cream Squirts, 26 Custard Creams and 52 Wet Wipes to perform their run at the Fringe this summer.