(Seen at the afternoon preview performance on 26th November 2016)
During the first half, the monkey was wondering why, in such unparalleled
British political times, anyone would bother reviving a play about a bunch of
1970s events that could seem almost tame by comparison.
In the second half, it
realised just how far off the point it was being...
This revival actually
serves two purposes. The first is a history lesson. The stirrings of devolution
and division that would become today’s Liberal Democrats. How a government could
work in an era before social media (the drivers’ pub beat twitter any day), and
how those in power were able to take a longer view of policy than that which
could be condensed into 140 characters.
The far more important point is that
this play is about power, and clinging on to it by whatever means necessary,
from literally flying in members to bringing them in practically on stretchers,
to vote. The revelation of this overarching wish to remain in control on their
own terms is what makes the current revival so relevant, as this age-old battle
is played out at its most naked.
And the arena they are given to play it in is
sumptuous. A clever Rae Smith design of House and offices, expertly lit by Paule
Constable is inhabited by director Jeremy Herrin’s magnificently large cast,
playing out (sometimes singing) half a decade of struggle.
The clash of whips
is compelling, with Phil Daniels (Bob Mellish) and Malcolm Sinclair (Humphrey
Atkins) the very embodiment of political approach with a little caricature.
Nathaniel Parker (Jack Weatherill) and Steffan Rhodri (Walter Harrison) deserve
note, as do Lauren O’Neil (Ann Taylor) and Sarah Woodward (Rochester & Chatham
etc). There’s a talented ensemble too, Charlie Buckland proving a particularly
versatile improviser in his conversation with the monkey. An actor for many a
casting director’s list, it thinks.
There are faults. The clock scenes are
interesting but in this lengthy work, perhaps superfluous. The odd lull in both
acts as parties re-group seem again to add little when running time is all.
That said, this is truly still a play for our times, and an opportunity to
see it should not be missed for anyone even mildly interested in British
politics, and for everyone else who frankly should be.