Director: Kevin Toolis
Reviewer: Harry Stern
Cynicism about the political process abounds. It is a default attitude that has legitimised the self imposed disenfranchisement of the majority of the potential electorate. Politics and politicians are held in such opprobrium that, ridiculously, they are now being touted as an irrelevance. Those who put their heads above the parapet and become involved are often tarred with the brush that depicts a landscape of deceit, self-serving and corruption. Fuelled by personal ambition they are perceived by so many to be the epitome of everything that is wrong with Government.
This fascinating, at times vitriolic, piece of work both confirms the jaundiced public view while also offering a striking example of an individual who might give the lie to the cliché. If we really knew the truth and understood how the world of power and leadership actually worked I suspect it would feel something like this. The play has a confidence, an authority and an authenticity about it that is very persuasive.
It is 5.45am and Gordon Brown is waiting for the first meeting of the day. While he waits he pontificates. About himself, about others, about politics, about the very nature of leadership and, ultimately, about humanity. There is a ripeness about the mixture. A maturity and dexterity in the writing that allows violent swings from knock-about comedy through adroitly aimed satire to unapologetic and profound philosophical introspection. For the first time the ex-Prime Minister emerges from the spin and the sound bite as a fully rounded human being. While we have no way of knowing whether it is either truthful or accurate it is certainly absorbing as Blair’s nemesis talks to us for nigh on ninety minutes.
We are not altogether sure about who we are and why we are being spoken to in this fashion and at this time of day, but it matters little if one is able to accept the premise and move on. There are some joyously funny moments. When he uses his laptop he thumps its keyboard as thought it were an old fashioned typewriter. The sardonic voice is honed to perfection.
It is provocative in its contemplation about other recognisable members of the political elite. While William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Alistair Darling, the ‘Chief Geek’ Ed Miliband and of course Tony Blair are lambasted, the much lamented John Smith is lionised. There is some astute observation. Robin Cook is accorded an utterly damning epithet – “lesser men are always full of envy”.
It is stimulating. The assessment of the required qualities in a leader, though couched in a satirical vein, are completely plausible. Apart from hair gel and smiling, strength and seriousness and steadfastness are cited – we are assured that assonance is all. Later on the thesis becomes more profound and there is the recognition that the “stiletto is never far from the hand of the ruler”. And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t referring to shoes.
And ultimately it is profound and moving. The description of the loss of seventy five percent of his eyesight leads into the final lengthy contemplation about power, strength and leadership which, in describing the Blair treachery – “he stole my light” – comes full circle to the observation that “we rule blindly”.
Ian Grieve is terrific. He gives a plausible articulacy to this notoriously awkward man. He handles his audience with skilful command and evokes respect, understanding and sympathy. He produces the man from inside the myth. It is a revelation. He owes a debt of gratitude to the writing which is fine. If this is Toolis’ first stage play we should anticipate his next with great enthusiasm.
Photo: MRP | Runs until 30th July