Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Count Me In" - March 2011

Gary McNair's "Count Me In" is one of those shows whose success (or otherwise) really depends on what the artist wants to achieve. If he's aiming to inform and provoke his audience then it probably has to be regarded as a failure; but if it's all just an excuse for a fun evening then it's a big success.

McNair's main problem in any attempt to educate his audience is its self-selecting make up. The vast majority of those choosing to see a show about the political system will have sufficient interest/understanding of politics that there is unlikely to be much here that will be new to them - and some will be frustrated by his inaccuracies. While his insistence that in Westminster elections we don't vote nationally for a Prime Minister but vote for a party may be de facto correct for many voters, it ignores the reality that we vote only for an individual person in a constituency - and one who is capable of changing their party allegiance at will. To be fair, McNair makes no claims to be an expert and is on journey of learning himself - but that's a fairly big mistake to make.

Most of the show is pitched at too basic a level for the majority of the audience - when he drops 'gerrymandering' into his illustration of varying constituency sizes it seems like we're about to go down a more interesting road but it's instantly discarded. And we get no mention of party funding, political broadcasts, media partiality etc. We don't even get the contrast between the various voting systems used in the UK in the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, European elections etc with the question as to how they can all be 'the best' system. It's also disappointing that we're given a largely Anglicised version of the development of British democracy.

In a couple of weeks, Mark Thomas appears at the Citizens - a comedian/activist who manages to highlight the absurdity of the detail and complexity of the systems that run our society, and although McNair's previous show on finance, "Crunch", showed he's capable of that, "Count Me In" falls considerably short.

But what it lacks in substance it makes up for, at least in part, in entertainment value. McNair's self deprecating approach works well and the electronic voting pads add the novelty factor = if perhaps not used to their full potential. His audience interactions are handled well, but at times he would benefit from a stand-ups killer instinct to shut-up an audience member enjoying their moment in the spotlight a little too much. What he does have, is a brilliant eye for a well crafted routine - particularly the creation of his 'digital assistant' (although she is then allowed to drone on far too long). There's no doubt that "Count Me In" is entertaining, but the overwhelming feeling we were left with was of a missed opportunity to really attack the flaws that exist in UK politics.

Count Me In was presented as a work in progress as part of the National Theatre of Scotland 'Reveal' season. It has now concluded its runs at the Traverse & Citizens.
Image by Drew Farrell used with permission