Plastic Zion, which has just opened at the White Bear in South London, was written in 1982, and is very much an artefact of that time, featuring a representative subset of the angry, disillusioned youth of Thatcher’s Britain, and their music.
At the centre of this discordant little group, transplanted by some unfortunate attempt to experience kulture to an abandoned cafe in backwoods France, is the working-class lad made rock star hero Clem (Nigel Croft-Adams) and his middle-class rebel, self-mutilating, self-hating, girlfriend Josephine (Caroline O’Hara).
Their “groupie” pack — much depleted from Clem’s glory days — consists of his longterm and faithful schoolfriend Yak (Ben Richardson), who’s been unable to imagine a life of his own, and two spongers, the transvestite Carly (Tim McFarland), a petulant, camp imp, and the dim but assertive Dagmar (Minouche Kaftel).
Over the course of a moderately drunken evening they squabble, make up, and act out all of their anxieties and problems. Yet at the end of it, with the exception of one, perhaps shattering, revelation, they are at the same point as they started.
This is a play that is both better, and worse, than that description suggests. A sketch of the characters suggest stereotypes, and yet the playwright, Chris Ward, makes each of these come alive as real, suffering human beings.
The strength of the acting in this Friendly Fire Productions show brings that out — Croft-Adams has an impressive, restless, raw-boned energy that puts him centre stage, and McFarland is devilishly endearing in a role that could easily descend to pure drag queen. Only Kaftel, with a high-pitched, whiny voice, is perhaps a little too into her character’s annoying characteristics.
They speak often in long, lyrical lines, like those of the songs in the background; it is almost poetry, and prefigures, perhaps, the arrival of rap.
“But what does it all mean?” That’s a line that might well be uttered by any of these characters, and what was left in this audience member’s mind.
The programme notes make a brave attempt to find deep significance in these characters’ uncertainties about identity, claiming that categories were less fixed in 1982 than they are today, a claim that I very much doubt. Young people today are playing with roles, and idling away their time in exactly the same ways, I’d suggest, even if the background music has changed.
Plastic Zion offers an entertaining evening, an historical excursion, but fails to get beyond that.
The White Bear Theatre is two minutes from Kennington Tube. Tickets can be booked on 020 7793 9193. The production continues until April 16.