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13 by UEA DramaSoc – review

DramaSoc’s recreation of Mike Bartlett’s 13, a play which has been widely accused of being over-complicated, even in its production at the National Theatre, was always going to be an ambitious task.

At best, the script could be described as challenging, but from the off, set director Louisa Smith and her cast had to battle to create compelling viewing from such a disjointed and far-fetched plot.

Photograph: 13 at the National Theatre by Alastair Muir via 13 at the National Theatre by Alastair Muir via

We see John (Joe Jones), a peculiar character with a fractious past and an unexplained absence, rising to become the leader of the moral ‘masses,’ by evangelising in a London park. He collects thousands of followers in an short period of time, becoming a kind of born-again Messiah, gathering momentum until he eventually has an audience with the PM (who just happens to be the mother of his dead friend).

Although Louisa Smith has described her interpretation as “not only about the dominant issues in our current climate; war, economy, politics … It is about the everyday people of London”, 13 can’t help but thrust these issues upon an audience, along with ideas about religion, the student neo-proletariat, social media and vagaries such as belief and another way, to name but a few. The “everyday people of London” were lost amongst this tirade of social garble and “big (meaningless) ideas.”

Unfortunately some of the directorial decisions didn’t ease the cluttering effect of the script, with several different styles of performance adding to an already saturated storyline.

However, there were moments of brilliance, particularly when the large ensemble was on stage. The creation of a powerful and seamless drumming sequence along with a beautifully put together arrangement of Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek provided welcome breaks from the dialogue. There was also impressive use of hand-held strobe lighting, to create the eerie atmosphere of “the bad dream”.

The overall quality of acting was good, but there were a few striking performances amongst the 24-strong cast. James McDermott’s frank portrayal of atheist academic Stephen provided the play with much needed gusto and genuine humour (“No, Latin’s-wise, Greek is sexy”), while Greta Mitchell’s compelling performance as Sarah, a mother who descends into madness, added a darker tone. Jerusha Green also did well in a difficult role as post-Thatcher female PM, Ruth. She managed to communicate the frailty of a bereaved mother as well as the strength of a powerful political figure.

Ultimately, the talent of the cast was let down by a complicated and unbelievable script, and direction which was perhaps a little too ambitious. 13 was meant to be provoking and engaging, portraying a cross section of modern London, ruminating on issues which are close to our hearts.

In reality, Bartlett tried to cover too many issues, and has created a play which is difficult to relate to. Baring this in mind, the cast should be congratulated for producing a play which wasn’t entirely dominated by the standard of the script.


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August 2022
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