August 2003 (online)
The quip has it that a conservative is just a liberal who's been mugged. Camarilla begins by asking what happens to a liberal who's been blown up, and then ponders whether she deserved it.
Van Badham, who also wrote last year's acclaimed Kitchen, has a knack of asking interesting questions about contemporary politics, even if she doesn't have the answers. In Camarilla, a Professor Maggy Tanner, an outspoken left-wing intellectual, is caught with her daughter in a London bomb blast. Both survive, but the ensuing trauma goes beyond the effects of the bomb itself.
The situation is made tenser by the visit of Maggy's partner's son from America. Having lived in the US since childhood, David serves as a cipher for mainstream American conservatism. He accuses Maggy of believing that the US got what it deserved on 9/11, and she doesn't try to correct him. In fact, a problem with the play is that her politics are never clear.
Does she really think America got what it deserved? Does she oppose humanitarian as well as retributive military interventions? We know she's left the Labour Party, placing her in the disillusioned left camp, but is she a Marxist, a welfare socialist, a new-fangled anticapitalist or what? Not knowing the substance of her arguments makes it impossible to judge her politically. But this isn't the playwright's problem: in fact, Van Badham has neatly captured the political fuzziness that plagues the contemporary left.
Badham insists that the play is about the lack of democracy in Western society, the neoliberal consensus. Describing his own politics, David says, 'I'm with the democratic, realistic, and fiscally responsible camp. You might remember us: we won the Cold War.' Well, sort of. Badham is certainly right that the grudging acceptance that There Is No Alternative coexists with frustration and cynicism on the left, not to mention the right, but democracy or the lack of it doesn't really come into it.
In any case, all this is neatly wrapped up in a family drama, none of whose protagonists are remotely likeable - kudos for that. There are no political answers here, but if nothing else there is a startling insight into what is really going on in the minds of apparently empty-headed blonde PR girls.
Read this article on Culture Wars website.