Allegience - SKINNYFEST 2

Article by Miles Johnson | 14 Aug 2006
Just before the second performance of "Allegiance" begins an announcement is made over the Assembly speakers; "We would like to remind that you that smoking is prohibited throughout the building". Audience tittering ensues, many clutching the day's newspapers leading with the story of Mel Smith's posturing against the smoking ban. After days of the press salivating over Smith's every cigar-tinged move, his production of Mary Kennedy's play is in danger of being eclipsed by the growing cloud of will he or won't he furore.

Following a night in 1921 when Winston Churchill, then a cabinet minister, invited the IRA leader Michael Collins (Michael Fassbender) to his house, Allegiance suggests that the birth of the Irish Free State came about as a result. Despite threats of closure if the lead succumbs to a Romeo y Julieta, there is one thing clearly in his favour as he emerges onto the stage, being in possession of a rotund stomach and face that at moments glance would leave many thinking he was Churchill himself. Smith walks the stage as a consummate performer, skilfully improvising when a mobile phone sounds from the audience in the opening scene by requesting his butler to answer it. Fassbender's Collins is equally as effective, his passion complementing Churchill's at times forlorn and aged declarations and ensuring he avoids being smothered under Smith's dynamism.

Kennedy's finely woven script allows a subtlety to the development of their relationship, leaving the audience to observe the growing intimacy between the two men, a process lubricated by alcohol, without the historical significance of the meeting becoming a distraction. The most memorable example occurs with Churchill commenting to Collins that Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" was a "beautiful description of one of the greatest balls ups in history". After the last line, Smith and his cast return to the stage for a standing ovation. After an ill-planned offensive against Scottish smoking legislation he is now leading a tactical retreat to save his production. Cigars or no cigars they have succeeded in articulating an excellent play and delivering a commanding performance.