General Secretary is a new drama with a dull title and an off-putting poster. A pair of angry women in sombre clothing glare into the middle distance.
But the satirical premise is intriguing. What if two young females with no experience took over the world? Georgie and Cassie are working from home when they receive a mysterious message from the United Nations. A pushy German blonde appears on their screens and makes an announcement: ‘You vill now be presiding over ze vorld.’ That’s it.
And so they take control from their kitchen. The first surprise is that the newly empowered sisters don’t set about exposing the faults of male-dominated governments. Instead they panic and fret like a couple of giddy airheads. How can they run the planet smoothly when they don’t know the names of all the countries? They mug up on world events by reading heavyweight authors like George Orwell and, hilariously, Terry Eagleton. When Justin Trudeau calls to offer his congratulations they blush and tremble like lovesick teenagers.
Searching for advice on the internet, they type ‘How to rule the world — easy guide’ into Google. Their first policies reflect their girly idealism. They start a campaign to ‘Free The Nipple’ and they issue an executive order to all men: ‘Men, calm down.’ They tell Greta Thunberg to copy Jane Fonda and to make work-out videos (which prove unpopular) and they set up a World Vision Song Contest whose motifs are peace and romance.
The joke is that the soppy love ballads convert evil dictators into pacifists. Putin hears the winning tune, by the Truce Twins, and immediately passes a Freedom of Information Act. In North Korea, Kim Jong-un declares: ‘Their cute costumes make me want to call off future nuclear strikes.’
The show is crammed with cameos and bit-parts played by the writer/performers. Hunting for information on YouTube, the women watch a video about politics made by two Californian hipsters who keep repeating the internet’s most annoying phrase, ‘Like and subscribe, guys. Like and subscribe.’ The jokes include some astute observations. They impose a tax on husbands who reach orgasm before their wives. But this has mixed results. On the plus side, women’s sex lives improve. But the tax fails to yield the expected sums because men change their habits to avoid paying up. This is an age-old Treasury dilemma: are taxes supposed to raise revenue or to modify conduct?
As the women tire of ruling benevolently they turn into despots, and the story becomes a meditation on the relationship between political power and image management. ‘We’ve put our faces on the Inca Trail, Mount Rushmore and a car park in Neasden,’ they boast.
And it suggests that determined amateurs — including the alumni of top private schools, presumably — are able to grab power through sheer gall, bluster and ambition. The authors, Cassie Symes and Georgie Thomas, seem to have controlled nearly every aspect of the production. The image quality and the editing are great. The sound could be better. The costumes look a bit am-dram. This brilliant piece deserves to be re-shot on a heavyweight budget. Doubtless this pair have more ideas waiting to be turned into satirical gold. Netflix should pick up the phone.
Testament is a trio of Bible stories set in present-day America. Tristan Bernays, a British writer, has a rare ability to capture the idioms of American English. But the show is unstimulating to watch. The performers sit in a circle and recite their lines without budging an inch.
First, a young man named Isaac recalls the scary moment when his father led him up a mountain to kill him but changed his mind at the last minute. This bald tale omits the pivotal moment when a ram is slaughtered in Isaac’s place. Why leave that out? The story marks the point when a civilisation stopped sacrificing humans to the gods and used animals instead.
Next, the destruction of Sodom told by two southern belles whose prosperous hometown is beset by vice. ‘Drinking. Gambling. All kinds of hell and holler,’ says one. ‘If it hadn’t been landlocked it would have been full of sailors.’ The story includes a description of incestuous rape which is magnificently dense and evocative. ‘His whole body stiffens and he quivers, and he’s done. And I say, “It’s OK, Daddy”.’
The last piece is the best. The narrator speaks from a ‘ten by six’ (slang for a prison-cell) and explains that he was forced to take part in an armed robbery that went wrong. He’s one of the thieves crucified alongside Christ. This is a classy and enjoyable piece of work, once it hits its stride. The fine lighting and excellent camera movements directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson go a long way to compensate for the lack of spectacle.
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