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“Nothing extraordinary ever happens,” remarks one character in James Graham’s play. How wrong can you get? Not only has the British general election been remarkable due, paradoxically, to its very dullness but, at the polling station in which Graham sets his play, matters gradually snowball from a single misplaced vote into an avalanche of personation and serious consequences. Yet his tale is entirely devoid of malice; it is simply a matter of one fib begetting two bigger ones, and so on.
The Vote is suffused with the fascination that informed Graham’s National Theatre piece This House, about the 1974-79 British government, but was largely lacking from Coalition, his recent TV drama about the negotiations after the 2010 election. He is engaged, and engages us, with both the rocks of procedural detail and the multi-legged ridiculousness scurrying about underneath. Basically, he makes geekery fun. All kinds of musts and must-nots are raised, but they never begin to bog down the goings-on among the polling station workers: Nina Sosanya as the earnest one; Mark Gatiss in prime officious-twerp mode; and Catherine Tate as the one who can’t put a foot right.
On Wednesday, the main players were supported by a starry cameo cast of 40 or so as assorted voters, officials, police and staff, from Timothy West as a confused old geezer to Paul Chahidi as a single-issue fringe candidate. You could see Judi Dench positively shimmying into a voting booth, MyAnna Buring as a Swedish reporter and Bill Paterson as an irascible janitor of the school in which the polling station is set up. At one point a first-time voter spoke a terrific line into her iPhone: “Siri, who should I vote for?”
This remarkable project from Graham and Donmar director Josie Rourke ends its theatrical run with a live television broadcast on More4 at the very time at which it is set: the final 90 minutes of polling. It is a deliciously smart way of addressing the importance of the event without getting caught up in the actual issues, and a much livelier strategy than the politicos themselves ever managed to find during the campaign.