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Posts Tagged ‘Julian Wadham’

The original leads of the 1982 West End premiere of Julian Mitchell’s play have done rather well for themselves. Rupert Everett was the first Bennett, followed by Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Frith, and Kenneth Branagh was the original Judd! The class of 2014, who seem a lot younger, are excellent (and include an Attenborough!) so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.

It’s particularly fascinating seeing one’s reaction to the play in three productions over 32 years. In 1982, Thatcher was challenging the old boy network in her own party and this grammar school / polytechnic / manufacturing industry boy felt like he was peering into some mysterious other world. In 2000, New Labour had caught our imagination and this seemed like distant history. Today, it’s like seeing the formative years of our current rulers, helping you understand where all the hypocrisy and duplicitousness comes from and realising that nothing has actually changed. I found that annoying and profoundly irritating.

It’s a 30’s British public school, breeding ground for leaders and spies. Bennett is openly gay, behaving like a child in a toyshop. Judd is a Marxist revolutionary, all idealism and rebellion. Their bond is that they won’t play the conservative game and conform with the absurd traditions. The rest are chips off the old blocks, clones of their dads, being brainwashed into following in their footsteps. The suicide of a boy caught inflagrante delicto with another and the visit of an old boy, uncle of a present one, are used to stimulate the debate about what these places actually breed.

It is an extremely well written play, superbly staged by Jeremy Herrin within Peter McKintosh’s simple wood-panelled world, and it’s beautifully performed by nine young actors and Julian Wadham as the old boy, who appeared as one of the boys in the original production. Somehow, though, it made me frustrated, hopeless and angry and I couldn’t shake that off.

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What an enthralling and entertaining evening in the theatre. Who’d have thought the period 1974-79 in British politics would make such a good play – and much more illuminating than living through it! From possibly the worst seat in the house on the upper level looking down, that’s praise indeed.

Designer Rae Smith has built a replica of the House of Commons in the Cottesloe Theatre. The pit audience sit on the green benches on either side, whilst most of the play takes place in the respective whips offices created from a few tables and chairs on the floor of the house. The Speaker’s chair is at one end, as it should be, and there’s a giant projection of the face of Big Ben high at the same end. They’ve even put the gargoyles of Westminster Hall on the upper level railings.

This was the last period when we had parties with slim or non-existent majorities leading to minority governments reliant on bargaining with ‘the odds and sods’ or more formal arrangements like the Lib-Lab Pact. The premiership moved from Wilson to Heath to Callaghan with Thatcher rising to lead her party and become PM as the play ends.

James Graham’s play focuses on these bargaining processes, together with the party discipline necessary to ensure everyone turned out, the process of ‘pairing’ whereby the absence of one member would be matched with the non-attendance of another in the opposing party and the absurd lengths they had to go to, bringing in the sick and infirm and propping up the drunk.

It’s surprisingly thrilling stuff and often very funny too. Jeremy Herrin’s staging is brilliant (with an occasional nod to Enron’s movement and music). I was gripped for the duration as I laughed, gasped and nodded in recognition. It somehow showed the best and worst of our parliamentary system.

The Labour whips are brilliantly played by Vincent Franklin, Philip Glenister, Richard Ridings and Lauren O’Neill (plus Phil Daniels in the first half) and the Tory whips equally well by Julian Wadham, Charles Edwards and Ed Hughes and there’s a great supporting company of eight who between them play 29 other characters, mostly MP’s, requiring quick change accents as well as costumes (though the Welsh was South East when it should have been South West!). I loved the way the MP’s were referred to by their parliamentary seat rather than their names, as they are in ‘real life’.

The timing of this play, during the next period of minority government (albeit this time a proper coalition), is impeccable and despite the period clothes, dodgy wigs and dated behaviour (Philip Glenister is well-practiced at this after TV’s 70’s Life on Mars and 80’s Ashes to Ashes) it’s relevant and fresh. I adored it.

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Well, the Rose Theatre at Kingston is full at last – but it took a Dame to do it. I hope this has given the good people of Kingston and environs a theatre-going habit, because their excellent new theatre won’t survive relying on us Londoners risking our street credibility to venture into the suburbs. 

This isn’t a particularly revelatory production, but it stands out in two ways – uniformly well acted and beautifully spoken. I particularly liked the physicality of the lovers scene in the forest and though the rude mechanicals were rather too subdued at first, they came into their own when they got to put on their play.

In the acting department, there’ a lot more than a Dame, including Rachel Stirling’s passionate Helena, Oliver Chris’ very funny Bottom and a fine regal pair in Charles Edwards and Julian Wadham. As for Her Highness, well you have to take any opportunity these days to be in the presence of her greatness and she’s as great as ever.

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