Tag Archives: political

The Upstanding Member – The Old Red Lion Theatre

When I did Boeing Boeing earlier this year, our director’s son emailed Mark Rylance to ask if he had any tips (Rylance had played Robert in West End and Broadway).  We did indeed get a reply of “Don’t play for laughs.  Play to terrify the audience about what might happen next.”  I would like to add to this the genuine sense that each character really is ‘winging it’ and desperately trying to keep up with the pace of unfolding events.  The Upstanding Member brings its fair share of terror.

The Right Honorable ____________ ______ MP has taken out a super-injunction against a young woman and when it turns out that she’s pregnant, he invites her to his second home on Christmas Eve to sort things out on the quiet.  Add into this mix some unscrupulous journalists/thieves, his lawyer, his wife and another man all trapped in the same room and the tangle of fibs becomes ever more muddled.  Playwright Gregory Skulnick’s typing fingers do seem to have run away with themselves at times, but when he reins them in, this is a cracking comedy full of lies, counter lies, mistaken identities and a light smattering of the sort of cheap laughs you can only get away with in farce.

The Man (Stephen Omer) is unapologetically pompous and quite happy to sort everything out with money.  But prostitute Gloria (Kate Craggs) is refusing to be bought off quietly and wants to go public with her pregnancy.  She treads a fine line between boldness and realising she may not actually get away with this after all.  Sorting things out is made rather difficult with the arrival of his wife, Beatrice (Carole Street) whose unfazed facial expressions tell us that this is a woman who knows exactly what is going on, yet she seems to revel in playing along just to watch her husband squirm.  His lawyer, Mr Graver (Ed Sheridan) cuts a desperate figure after all his hard work seems to have gone to waste overnight.

Alastair (Tim Dewberry) and Danny (Izaak Cainer) make a great double act as the pair of thieves who have to hide (slightly implausibly) behind a flag and coat when The Man comes home unexpectedly.  But they find themselves listening in on the juiciest details of his infidelity and when they are discovered, they deftly overcomplicate matters by announcing themselves as lawyers defending either party against the other.  A convoluted legal dispute begins which rapidly gets out of control, to hilarious effect, as neither The Man nor Gloria is prepared to admit the truth in front of his wife.  There is a real feeling that all of them are thinking on their feet and making it up as they go along.  A real challenge when this sort of comedy has to be rehearsed to precision.

This is a light-hearted bit of fun-poking into the world of politics, super-injunctions and the media, and you do begin to wonder “how are any of them going to get out of this?!”.  At the point when we seem to be heading for a stalemate, there is thankfully a break in proceedings which unclutters the stage and gets the story over a hump (where I really thought we were going to start going over already-used material).  There is room to tighten up the writing to make this really slick, but this is still an enjoyable laugh-out-loud comedy in one of London’s most intimate and quirky venues.

The Upstanding Member is on at The Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NJ,  until 4th January.  This is a one-act play with no interval.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/the-upstanding-member.htm

Farragut North – Southwark Playhouse

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“24 hours is a long time in politics.” This biting political drama centres on the lengths to which people will go, just to keep their head above the water in the race to the White House.  This is the UK premiere of Farragut North, a play by Beau Willimon, who worked on the Primary campaign for Democrat candidate Howard Dean back in 2004.  The play was the basis for the screenplay of The Ides of March which starred George Clooney and Ryan Gosling.

It’s 6 months to the presidential election – all systems are go as each campaign team rallies behind their respective governors, trying to get ahead in the polls, second guess their rivals and work the journalists to write in their favour to win votes in the upcoming Primaries and Caucuses.  In the midst of this is the self-assured and charismatic Stephen Bellamy (Max Irons, recently seen in the BBC adaptation of The White Queen), sweet talking the press and whipping up support – with his team getting a little on the complacent side, he takes a call from the boss of a rival and agrees to meet him, with no consideration for the repercussions.  Irons is a little quiet in the first scene, but as the tension ramps up, so does his volume.

As the situation rapidly spirals out of control, allegiances within their team start to crumble and everyone is fighting to keep their job and their place in the pecking order whilst maintaining the right image for the press and the public.  It’s their neck on the line, or yours.  If you have to drop them in it, do it.  Trust no one.  The play weaves its ways through the minefield of skeletons in cupboards; each action and revelation, which should be enough to annihilate a career, is manipulated to their advantage by a carefully worded phone call to a cleverly chosen person, shifting the balance of power at every turn.

Tom Duffy (Andrew Whipp) teaches Bellamy a hard lesson in playing the political game.  On the surface a politically experienced man, almost father-like, who appears to offer some cold hard truths about Bellamy’s campaign and a lucrative proposition: “We’ve been sending out phony literature to your precinct captains with incorrect polling station addresses.  On voting day we’ll send out vans to create traffic to stop your voters getting there.  You’ve already lost.  Come and work for me.”.  But in the penultimate scene you realise how smoothly he has laid a trap and invited Bellamy to walk into it; he gives the illusion of being warm and honest, but is unashamedly ruthless.

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But this is a game of strategy and everyone has their gains to make: Ida Horowicz (Rachel Tucker, recently Elphaba in Wicked) is to all intents the beguiling journalist who can make a man feel safe about spilling the beans (and doesn’t she know it), but would step over her own grandmother to get a juicy scoop that could make or break a campaign.  Paul Zara (Shaun Williamson, best known as Barry in Eastendersis the man leading the charge for his governor, planning deals, endorsements, what to drip feed to the press and when; a likeable man when things are going his way, and piously passive-aggressive when someone breaks his trust.

Ben Fowles (Josh O’Connor) is the plucky young junior just starting to cut his teeth on the campaign trail – he is endearing and naive, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  His suggestion of a fresh approach for a speech in Iowa is mercilessly shouted down by Bellamy, but just when you think he has scuttled off with his tail between his legs, the power shifts and he’s able to stroll into the limelight at just the opportune moment.  Molly Pearson (Aysha Kala) is the sultry young intern who has no qualms with sleeping her way to the top.  Confident, sexy and enigmatic, she eventually finds herself out of her depth as the machinations of politics manoeuvre around her.

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This is a play by an American playwright about the American political process.  Unless you are VERY up to speed on your American politics, I strongly recommend getting there early in order to buy a programme for £2.50 and reading it thoroughly from cover to cover in order to understand what’s going on.  There are a lot of names of unseen characters which are thrown about with wild abandon and as these are all fictional people, it requires a lot of listening to catch who’s who in which campaign.  This is a fascinating if slightly terrifying peep into the world behind the glistening smiles and the soaring speeches that punctuate the long road to the White House.  Just think, it all begins again for real in January 2016…

Farragut North is on until 5th October 2013 at Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD.  Tickets from http://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk  Contains frequent use of strong language.