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Proud review at the Finborough Theatre, London – ‘a distinctly cerebral experience’

Nicholas Cass-Begg in Proud at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Venus Raven
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For a story of political manoeuvring, opportunism and naked ambition, Proud is a surprisingly even-handed affair. Only now receiving its European premiere, Michael Healey’s 2012 satire Proud is part comedy, part economics lecture, and part caricature of former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The tactfully unnamed politician constructing this particular house of cards is a fascinating subject, ruthless but strangely likeable, awkward and amoral but driven by a genuine desire to improve society. Nicholas Cass-Beggs imbues the character with an air of breathless confidence and a perpetual bemused smile that suggests he can’t quite believe what he is getting away with.

Opposite him, Emily Head provides the show’s only source of conflict as sharp-tongued, cheerfully contrary Lyth, a newly-elected representative with strong opinions but no actual beliefs. Though their snappy sparring is undeniably satisfying, they always end up agreeing with each another, leaving the play feeling tentative – a polite chat rather than the fierce debate it could be.

The production opens with a smartly realised video projection from designer Luay Eljamal, where helpful background information scrolls along beneath a news report. After that, though, the performance becomes staid and static, trailing off into long conversations about competing financial models or the parliamentary seating plan. Jonny Kelly’s direction plays up the humour but does little else to inject dynamism into proceedings.

Politics, Healey tells us, is a fundamentally emotional event. His play on the other hand, is a rational, reasonable, and distinctly cerebral experience.

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Verdict
Ego and political expedience collide in Michael Healey's fair-minded satire
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