Picture the scene, it's the night of the General Election in the USA, the Democrats are romping home with their message of change, and Pennsylvania Avenue is less than hour away for the future President-Elect.
At the same time, photos and a video of his gay student son have appeared on the Internet dressed as Mohammed and simulating oral sex on another student dressed as a notable evangelical fundamentalist Christian. Riots begin in Pakistan as the news breaks whilst Florida is still waiting to call its results. This is the fictious scenario that forms the backdrop to Christopher Shin's new play, Now or Later at the Royal Court Theatre, but, like a crisis in an episode of the West Wing, it has a ring of truth to it.
In a short hour and a quarter Shin take his audience not only on a journey that shows how the Internet has changed the face and pace of politics, but also a tour de force of questions about freedom of expression; the nature of religion and its relation to politics in the Islamic and Western worlds; and finally the hard-nosed reality that when the stakes are high, politics is often far more important than ideology and principle no matter how right your principles might actually be. The play deals with the inherent contradictions that have grown between relativism (cultural and moral) on the one hand, and the very core value system of Western Enlightenment such as equality, democracy and individualism.
You are not left with the feeling that this play is trying to push a particular line about how the West should deal with these issues, but instead you leave the theatre realising that Western Enlightenment is a facing a struggle for the survival of its own values, and that it is suffering from an internal moral panic at the contradictions that it has created for itself.
Its not just at "war" with theocracy and a value system it has trouble comprehending, it has a battle line at home as a culture clash occurs that goes all the way across the traditional political divide of Left and Right. This play is about those in the middle that neither want to accept the relativism of the Left, nor want to accept the realpolitik of the Right, both of which seek to appease with regret and apology but for entirely different reasons.
Now Or Later previews from Sep 3, and opens Sep 11 until Oct 11, at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square