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  • Jack Starr

Dead Cats Review – A Satirical Stab at Political Trickery in the Playhouse



Dead Cats is the latest play from Proto-Type Theater and their ‘Truth to Power Project’, a theatre series exploring democracy, power and control in the modern UK political climate. The play is part of a thematic trilogy, starting in 2016 with A Machine they’re Secretly Building, and continuing in 2018 with The Audit (or Iceland, a Modern Myth).


Dead Cats is the conclusion of the trilogy, taking place in ‘the room where language is laundered’ – where two unnamed characters spar and argue over political discourse. It becomes apparent that one of these characters – the one on the ‘defensive’ – is some kind of spin-doctor, someone who works for government media and rephrases language to ‘clean it up’, turning phrases like ‘civilian casualties’ into ‘collateral damage’. The title of the play refers to the ‘dead cat strategy’ of political distraction, commonly associated with Boris Johnson.


The play stars Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees (who lead Proto-Type along with director Andrew Westerside), and as with all good two-hander plays, the way they play off each other is immaculate. There is no shortage of witty little interactions and quips that play well with the political theme. As their intensity towards each other increases, the play becomes more and more engaging, culminating in some brilliant moments of satire, as well as grounding itself in some humorous exchanges.


The play combines a minimalist stage design with a film projector, setting moods and motifs through pre-recorded imagery. The multi-media formatting is clever, and effective at setting visual language as scenes require. The Truth to Power Project has been noted for its wide range of different works across different mediums, including digital animations, a BBC Radio drama, a summer school, conversation cafés, and more.


Dead Cats’ greatest strength is in its ability to demonstrate the slipperiness of language, and how words can be deconstructed into meaninglessness when it benefits higher powers. A particular highlight is a scene in which the two characters go over a slide-show of problematic phrases, and the spin-doctor character says how she would rephrase it to be more palatable to the public. It’s played quite humorously, though in actuality, it’s quite shocking – when ‘drone bombings’ are rebranded as ‘surgical strikes’, we see how easily a turn-of-phrase can instantly redirect a whole narrative.


The creators behind this are clearly frustrated and helpless at the current political climate, and this play makes it easy to see why – the twenty-four-hour news cycles and constant social media exposition has turned political discourse into a minefield of trickery and propaganda, where he who controls the language, controls the world.


You can read more about Proto-Type’s Truth to Power Project at http://proto-type.org/projects/current/the-truth-to-power-project/

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