The Cambridge Geek


Political satire now, following the antics of the new department for capital punishment, which is in place after a referendum on whether or not to bring it back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pro-capital punishment campaign won with an enormous majority of 51%. So now the department has to decide whether the will of the people is for soft or hard capital punishment. Which equates to lethal injection or hanging.

The Brexit parallel is built into this from the ground up, with the new department having all the same problems that DExEU has. People need to be stolen from other departments to staff it, it's got an incompetent Minister, who is full of fire and fury but very little intelligence, and it's trying to work to a vague mandate without really understanding what people want.

The staff are the important part here, as it's a mostly improvised, semi-scripted work where they have certain beats to hit, but can get to them in a variety of ways. Charlotte is the neurotic head of section, driven by work and a variety of demons, attempting to corral the team into order. Liam is the strongly pro-hanging employee, who is remarkably fond of the usual phrases ("liberal metropolitan elite", "will of the people"). Matilda is the anti-hanging voice, working there to try and stop the whole process. And Adam is a blank slate, bending to whoever is the strongest voice in the room at any given moment.

I don't think I can write this post without reference to The Thick Of It, so here's that. It has the same improvised format with the dialogue being developed by the cast in long sessions and then edited down a very long way to get a tight plot. It runs with the expected incompetence in a very funny manner, hitting all the things likely to go wrong. The dialogue has the realistic tendency to include a lot of waffling back and forth about difficult questions, while still containing enough quips to keep it enjoyable.

The team have to come up with a method of execution, a possible "service user" who it's politically expedient enough to murder, someone to do the actual murdering (maybe a celebrity?) while coping with a public who aren't entirely sure what they want and a Minster who is using the entire affair purely for personal gain (which I'm sure doesn't remind you of anyone).

The silliness of the bureaucracy is best seen by the phrase "we want a policy that protects the rights of the prisoner, right up to the point when they're murdered", but also in the dialogues discussing how the killing should be done. The team bumble through more or less everything, including drumming up angry voices to support the execution (occasionally via a seance) and a "Love Actually"-styled sprint to the airport in order to catch a hate preacher who they can kill from the moral high ground.

It's very well put together, evidence of the significant time and expertise that's been put into it. The trouble is, it's just so depressing. Aspects of it are funny, very much so, but it also feels like someone has gone through and peppered it with stock Brexit comments from facebook and twitter. It came out last year, and I should probably have listened to it then. But now I've had another 12 months of the Brexit debacle, and this is just too close to what's actually been going on in that time. Liam in particular is one of the results of really good satire, where you find it utterly believable, and at the same time hate it.

It's very good, but it's also a bit much to listen to all in one go, because you can easily imagine all of it happening in some form at the minute. Maybe spread it out a bit.

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Comedy Cast Sitcom Workplace/Employment Serial