Don’t we all start out wanting to change the world? What does that look like if you’re a playwright?

David Edgar has been writing plays since the age of twenty. He’s now 70. His shows have been performed at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and countless other places. In his younger days, he prided himself on being something of a revolutionary. 50 years on, he wonders whether he did enough to bring about the change he once so passionately believed in.

This is a fascinating and probably polarising piece of theatre. First performed last year at Warwick Arts Centre in association with China Plate, the play questions the value of supposedly formative experiences on youthful ambition. In a wider sense, it also explores the role of the arts in creating change.

The play is performed by David Edgar himself, playwright turned performer, which affords a Brechtian sort of satisfaction. Director Christopher Haydon gives him just enough to do to keep the audience interested. Edgar reads the script from an auto-cue at the back of the auditorium. Does that make the play a lecture that happens to be performed in a theatre?

Danielle Phillips, the other actor in the piece, is a lovely antidote to Edgar’s controlled delivery but, as a relative latecomer to the story, there’s a lot of reading before we get there.

Given the self-consciously theatrical nature of the piece, it was hard to know whether the technical hiccups (films sticking though the audio performed as intended) were intentional or accidental. That to one side, Frankie Bradshaw’s set and William Reynolds‘ video design and lighting plot provide a hard-working and interesting counterpart to the story-telling. Featuring other testimonials does widen the scope here from the purely autobiographical.

Notwithstanding the other contributors, or the fact that David Edgar has led a fascinating life, the play’s punch only comes in the final fifteen minutes. This is obviously the case with many other productions, but without knowing it’s coming, this script could be interpreted as a narcissistic meander. 

However, via Shakespeare and the Northern Line, Edgar recovers his focus and demonstrates that much of what we consider progressive is actually centuries old. Today’s young people want their own version of revolution, and how that’s framed rightly evolves over time. 

Other recent pieces of theatre have dealt with many of these same topics and arguably delivered a more visceral impact by employing the sort of story-telling more commonly used in theatre. But for those interested in one man’s fight with his conscience about his place and purpose in the world, told by that self same man, Trying It On is an interesting and endearing work.