We are in the might-well-be near future. The Tories are in power, although with a tiny majority, and we are in the government whips’ office just before Christmas.
Straightaway, in the opening scene between the Deputy Chief Whip and a distinctly unmarried young MP, Steve Thompson’s new play hits you with smart satire and good jokes, and the audience responds with waves of laughter. So, within minutes, you think: “How odd: I’m sitting in a pub theatre watching a play made for the West End.”
Or not quite so odd. The playwright-director Terry Johnson has taken it under his wing, directing it himself and casting it from strength with a line-up whose most prestigious member is Richard Wilson.
Thompson has made his play so well that it’s hard to explain most jokes out of context. I am much taken, mind you, by the Deputy Chief Whip’s point that an MP who has just spoken in the House of Commons repeated himself at the request of the BBC (“When they need the sound bit done again they text you”); and there are casual little defensive remarks, such as the young MP’s “my sexuality doesn’t affect my ability to open fetes”.
All the acting is good: Wilson brings his jaundiced authority to the Chief Whip, and Robert Bathurst and Nicholas Rowe are outstanding as the Deputy CW and young MP.
The play stays constantly impish. It’s just a pity that, having begun so brilliantly, it doesn’t build into something yet more surprising and outrageous. The plot is one of scam and counter-scam, but you can see some twists coming and the ending is a little lame. This is just Thompson’s second stage play, although he is experienced in TV drama writing, and it gives off signs that he has it in him to write a hit West End political satire. This isn’t it, but maybe next time.
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