By Hannah Phillips
Saturday morning, in the local bookies: The Miracle Stags vs. the Black Hand. Who would you put your money on?
Jeremy James’ debut play at Jermyn Street Theatre is one of zealotry, following two contrasting conspirator groups (four young Hungarian artists vs. Serbian nationalists) working towards the same cause – to kill the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Or, as Colonel Apis (played by Alexander Nash) puts it: “the cows must not come home to roost.”
We are first introduced to an aging Hungarian painter, Sandor (Tony Wredden), who is visiting his great-niece Margit (Angela Dixon) in Oxfordshire, 1963. During his visit, Sandor collapses, leading to paralysis in his left arm and leg. With seemingly no medical or physical explanation for his collapse, Margit, a typically blah psychotherapist, takes it upon herself to unlock suppressed memories and establish the real trigger. Thus, the story begins.
Our eyes are drawn from the left corner of the small stage to two further sections. Centrestage is occupied by a young Sandor (Jesse Decoste) and his artist pals, aka the Miracle Stags, as they plot to become heroes of their country – between debating the likes of Klimt, naturally. Meanwhile, to the right of the stage we find Colonel Apis and his loyal sidekick, Corporal Tankosic (Mark Joseph), whose time is largely spent reporting the failures of their inept group of assassins, in the lead up to their eventually successful quest. One might even draw comparisons to Dad’s Army here.
There are a heck of a lot of changes between the three frames throughout, which becomes a little arduous at times. But it’s all tied together by some notable performances, particularly from Emma Mulkern, as the boyish but fatefully lovelorn Medve; and Alexander Nash and Mark Joseph as the fantastically sinister yet farce-prone leaders of the Black Hand group.
Once you get to grips with who, what and wheres, though, The Cause is a dark tale of honour, pursuit, disaster – and that summer’s day in Sarajevo, 1914, where cause took effect.
The Black Hand 1 – 0 The Miracle Stags.
Hannah Phillips: twitter @hanrph