By Issy Flower
The King of a micronation is dead; long live….? This is the question that haunts Ryan King’s comedy-drama ‘The Republic of Eric’. Combining sitcom style comedy, satire and pathos, King’s extremely engaging production examines parental influence, grief and nationhood through the prism of three squabbling siblings.
King’s writing is notable for the depth with which he instils these characters within forty or so minutes. Erica’s desire for power and love for her country is neatly twinned with her love for her father, which contrasts nicely with Willa, who wishes to abandon the so-called state due to what it truly represents: the interests of one man. Liam is beautifully drawn as a classically smooth and manipulative presence, who sometimes evokes the machinations of Yes Minister’s Humphrey Abbleby.
However, King’s greatest achievement is in realistically creating the sibling relationships between these characters, which are exquisitely played by their actors. Aimee Dickinson, Cameron Ashplant and Naomi Cook all give the sense that these characters have known one another for years, fully realised in the climactic dinner scene, where nostalgic playfulness is contrasted by a sense of betrayal.
Eleanor Storey, playing multiple roles, also manages to imbue each with strong characterisation and comedic timing. These factors are even more remarkable considering that no actors were ever in the same room, and the cast and crew should be applauded for developing realistic and emotional relationships despite this.
King also demonstrates notable skill in combining comedic and dramatic elements. Lines such as ‘he named you before he knew you’ manage to evoke laughs while pinpointing the self-indulgence of the deceased patriarch, and he later neatly skewers topics such as pomposity, nationhood and the idea of ‘Little Englands’ through comedic contrast. However, while this is a laugh-out-loud play, there are real moments of pathos.
The repeated metaphor of gardening spans comedic and dramatic moments, providing an emotional throughline that carefully hangs the plot together. Similarly, Cook’s Willa, as a contrast to her more acerbic siblings, highlights the emotional strain of the Republic’s way of life, and the final scene leaves you feeling sadness for all four characters present, as they face an uncertain and divided future. The great talent of this play is in this delicate balance: you could tell me it was the pilot of a sitcom, or the latest Radio Four afternoon play, and it would work in either format.
The production team should also be commended for how well this was adapted for radio. The lack of visuals give lines a zing they may not have had on stage, and allowing the audience to imagine the sheer size of the ‘Republic’ adds an extra comic dimension. The audio-only radio format also taps into another of King’s themes: the impact of a person who is no longer present, thus sharpening the characters sense of absence and loss. Whilst the restrictions of remote producing might have led to a little misdirection- one character says ‘sorry for snapping’ when they definitely didn’t snap- the general attention to detail from the performances to the sound effects is commendable.
‘The Republic of Eric’ manages to balance comedy and drama, grief and humour, set pieces and character moments within forty-odd minutes, combining them with strong performances and production design. As a satire on power, property and family, and a drama of grief and conflict, it can little be bettered.
Image Credit: Buttered Toast Theatre Company