On The Line

Thu 2nd – Sat 4th February 2012


Clara Pouletty

at 09:06 on 3rd Feb 2012



“Politics,” Ved’s communications director character tells his subordinate just before the curtain closes, in an ‘unconvinced) last ditch attempt at philosophy, “Fucking politics.”

Of course, no curtain actually closes -- the play is being shown in Wadham’s Moser Theatre, which seems to have been summarily reclaimed from the college’s badminton players. But the failure of this last line to evoke any sort of reflexion is symptomatic of the issues this political comedy faces in trying to portray its farce as satire.

On the Line, put on by the Oxford IPlayers, follows the struggles of Sara Malik, MP for Slough and Minister for Development, as she opts to head a new train line project. The project becomes controversial when someone leaks to the press that its construction will entail the razing of a mosque and community centre she has recently (and publicly) promised to protect. The community rises up, imams ramble threateningly, and Machiavellian C-list politicians scheme and manoeuvre behind the scenes.

I was able to see this play twice, once as a run-through rehearsal and once on opening night. Unfortunately, the run-through was by far the more convincing performance. The script, though it partakes liberally in the clunky, stereotype-heavy comedy so typical of the genre, is sharp, well-paced and often very funny. However it’s delivery last night was mostly let down by a visibly nervous cast, who floundered further in the face of a rather unresponsive audience. Silences dragged on as actors missed their cues and fought to remember their lines, and quite a few of the humorous moments I remembered from my first viewing were either fudged or fell flat.

Indeed, while a few secondary characters shine – one thinks of Ibrahim Khan’s Imam character, Miles Lawrence’s Walter and, on a better night, Hanzla Macdonald’s Lloyd, other potentially compelling actors seem to have been directed into a frenzy of directionless hostility. This was most obvious last night in Khush Ved and Nathan Joss, whose characters spent most of their time screaming and ranting to no dramatic purpose and little comedic effect.

On the other hand, in perhaps the most effective element of satire in the performance, Aisha Saad’s Sara Malik remains flat and featureless throughout, the perfect political pawn, remarkable only in her continual oscillation between cowering subservience and unsubtle self aggrandizement.

I am inclined to believe that most of these issues are of the type to subside as the cast grows in confidence and continues to perform, supported by a solid, well-paced script. My final uncertainty, however, is apt to remain: at the end of the performance I turned to a fellow reviewer and asked, “So wait, who leaked the information in the end?”

He shrugged.


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