PPP: Milkshake

Mar 23 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Claustrophobic

Traverse: Tue 22 – Sat 26 March 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The subject matter of Milkshake by Rob Drummond, the latest offering at the Traverse from Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and a Pint, is intriguingly topical. Despite being acted with real conviction, however, it never quite reaches the heights it promises.

Conservative MP Arthur and graduate Owen are at a restorative justice session after Owen, angry at benefit cuts, doused the politician with a strawberry milkshake. Unfortunately, because of the non-appearance of the moderator, they are forced to conduct the session themselves.

Richard Conlon and Ewan Miller in Milkshake. Pic: Jonny Scott

Surely inspired by a similar event involving Nigel Farage, this would seem to be a promising set-up for a drama. Unfortunately, Drummond does not always seem to know where he is going with it. His previous plays have often been formally adventurous, and always at the very least fascinating. This, his seventh PPP script, lacks a certain sparkle and noticeably loses its way towards the end.

Much of the dialogue is beautifully written, and interesting things are touched upon, such as how the well of political discourse has been so thoroughly poisoned – often by those who then seek to cast themselves as its victims. Similarly, the way that some who preach tolerance are the least ready to hear alternative viewpoints is elegantly referenced.

frustratingly unexplored

However, the motivations of the characters are left frustratingly unexplored. This is undoubtedly not the fault of Richard Conlon and Ewan Miller, who are both compellingly vital as Arthur and Ewan respectively. Finn Den Hertog’s direction is also wonderfully controlled and tense, with Gemma Patchett and Johnny Scott’s design leading to a wonderfully enclosed, claustrophobic feel.

Ewan Miller and Richard Conlon in Milkshake. Pic: Jonny Scott

Much of what is portrayed simply does not ring true. Even leaving aside the question of why someone who is clearly a Westminster MP seems to be so directly involved with the running of the (devolved) Scottish justice system, there is a sense of the narrative being somewhat out of time.

Although there are references to Covid and ‘partygate’ (the jokes about which are as predictable as the lame references to ‘narcissistic snowflakes’), this appears to have been conceived in an earlier, gentler time. We are expected to believe that a politician’s career would be endangered by the simple act of admitting mistakes.

Since breaching the ministerial code is now all in a day’s work, and bullying, lying and flagrant breaches of the government’s own guidelines are now dismissed as ‘trivial fluff’, this is difficult to credit – however fatal these errors may have proved.

Drummond does go to great lengths to make both characters relatively complex. Indeed, the moments when the storyline strays furthest from civics into their backstories are where the narrative is most compelling, and where the performers truly shine. Accordingly, it is always a shame when it then judders back into the more formulaic political discourse.

Den Hertog’s tremendously paced handling of the material does mean that the time flies by, and the dedication of the actors cannot be faulted. As a brief, undemanding entertainment it is thoroughly satisfactory, but it never becomes the thought-provoking piece its premise would suggest.

Running time: 50 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 22 – Saturday 26 March 2022
Daily at 1pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Then touring to Aberdeen:
Lemon Tree, 5 West North Street, Aberdeen, AB24 5AT
Tuesday 29 March – Saturday 2 April
Tue – Fri: 6pm; Mats Thurs, Sat: 1pm.
Information and tickets: Book here.

Ewan Miller and Richard Conlon in Milkshake. Pic: Jonny Scott


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