Where politicians have the House of Commons in which to debate heated topics like immigration, multiculturalism and same-sex marriage, much of the British public are left to discuss their views over neighbours’ fences, spurred on by the media.
Cul-De-Sac at Theatre503 presents a comedy portrait of the ugly world of 'broken Britain' - a country in which poor people and foreigners are to be feared and upstanding white Anglo-Saxon men must "fight the good fight" to protect their 'identity'.
Sound familiar? Playwright Matthew Osborne reveals the source of his inspiration, as Cul-De-Sac character Nigel (Mike Hayley) waves his Daily Mail newspaper at neighbour Tim (Alan Francis), incensed by the stories within: a Council erecting a statue of naked men - “public money spent on acts of buggery” - and members of the Polish community “interfering” with donkeys in the local animal sanctuary.
Osborne presents the world of the Daily Mail on stage, or rather, in a quiet little cul-de-sac where everyone lives in safe harmony, as long as you don't park your car on the road, or go against the grain…
Tim has moved to the play's quiet little road to nurture dreams of his daughter’s ascension to Oxbridge and beyond. Well-meaning neighbour Nigel guides Tim on the ways of the cul-de-sac, how to 'fit in' and most importantly, how to get on with Tony, the enigmatic godfather of the area. Mess with Tony and you face social disgrace.
Alan Francis as Tim and Mike Hayley as Nigel
Hayley brings his inspired facial expressions to the role of Nigel - a constant composure of shocked disgust, his nose held aloft, his darting eyes revealing a fear of 'outsiders'. With his cut glass vowels and haughty annunciations, Hayley has a striking resemblance to Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens.
Osborne's play may be bizarre and comically twisted, but it does shine a spotlight on the real members of Britain's cul-de-sac, such as Hitchens, who recently declared on Question Time during a discussion on same-sex marriage: "the problem is that we've become so willing in this country to accept the liberal majority and the ideology of equality and diversity."
For those made queasy by Hitchens' insight into the world of the Daily Mail, then Cul-De-Sac is a fitting remedy.
Bizarre plot lines pursue Tim - he is a closeted homosexual suppressing his attraction to men with a lifetime prescription of anti-depressants. The terrifying neighbourhood quack Dr Cole (Julian Dutton) advises that pain aversion therapy is much more effective in setting him 'straight' - cue needles in the arm when looking at pictures of topless men and hands shoved into flaming flambés when a waiter in tight trousers walks past.
Julian Dutton as Dr Cole and Mike Hayley as Nigel
In the vein of The League of Gentlemen, the classic masters of the comic macabre, Osborne gives us a delightfully well-observed twist on Ira Levin's Stepford Wives, in which an invasion of hooded immigrants could try to steal your kidney at any moment.
Cul-De-Sac is running at Theatre503, London, until 5 January 2013.