Nick (Michael-David Mckernan) is your average everyday bloke, or at least he is up to the moment when he joins a Trotskyite political party in order to get laid. Even before it has begun, the very premise of Oliver Eagleton’s new play “According to His Need” is deeply cruel. Nick would have more chance of experiencing glamorous, passionate sex if he went and lived in an old people’s home for a week than he ever would on the revolutionary rump of the Left.
When the Occupy movement recently sprouted up around Western city-centres in Woodstock-style campsites, all of the campers were lectured about making their quarters a “safe space” and respecting each other’s physical and emotional boundaries. More seriously, this play’s Irish setting, although possibly having something to do with the fact that the Reds Theatre Company are from Ireland, avoids any need to mention the yuckiness of the rape allegations which last year turned the UK Socialist Workers’ Party upside-down. Sex is a prickly topic in this corner of the Left, either bleakly absent or explosively disruptive. “According to His Need” would be a fascinating play if it used some realism to locate the springtime of human love within the Siberian snowfields of today’s Communism, but the whole thing is played for laughs. It is richly funny, but it only ever wants to be silly.
The C Nova spare-room studio, with its modest ring of chairs, replicates the appearance of a Trotskyite meeting. Nick is attending a Communist lecture where the masses are reduced to two people: himself and the smouldering sex-pot and dogmatist banshee Cass (Hannah Mamalis). Ninety per cent of Cass is her voice, which is sensual and yet strict, luxurious and yet powerfully nasal. Once she gets going, she sounds like an opera. If anybody wanted to make a play about the life of Rosa Klebb, Mamalis would be perfect for the early years. Cass randomly decides to try to make Nick a Communist by conquering him sexually. Or perhaps she wants to propel Communism forward a couple of centuries by harnessing it to Nick’s libido. The climax of this play is indeed the sex scene, in which the pair lubricate themselves with Marxist terminology and dialectical synthesis could be a position from the Kamasutra.
You are probably thinking that there cannot be many Eagletons knocking about today in the museum of the Left and the writer, Oliver Eagleton, is indeed the son of the behemoth public intellectual. At first, when considering this play’s sexual forthrightness and its familiarity with a political milieu which had largely faded away by the 1990s, it is amazing to learn that Oliver is only seventeen. After thinking about it for a long time, however, it eventually begins to make sense.
There is an immaturity to these characters, in their allegorical flimsiness and confused motivations. This is a play which doesn’t really work on paper although the actors, its representatives out in the world, somehow make it an extraordinary success. In these terms, “According to His Need” is the precise opposite of Marxism.