King’s Head Theatre, London – until 17 November 2018
I wonder if in years to come we’ll look back on the ‘Theatre of Brexit’ in the same way we analyse Shakespeare’s treatment of Agincourt or the Trojan Wars in Sophocles? Those sunlit uplands from which we could view the situation with amused distance seem light years away as we struggle through the contemporary realities and indecision.
Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky’s play moves us on just a couple of years but is more thoughtful and grown-up than a lot of the studenty offerings on the same subject at the Edinburgh Fringe. Since ‘everything’ about Brexit is double-edged, it seems ironic Brexit sold out at the Fringe but also received a lot of two-star reviews. It is an excellent idea, and eerily prophetic – to position a new post-May prime minister challenged with managing an unresolved withdrawal from the EU – but harder to wring satisfactory comedy out of it.
As an example, Theresa is constantly referred to as ‘Matron’, which AFAIK she never is. I’d have borrowed the nickname she earned on her trip to China where Xi Jinping told her his people called her ‘Auntie May’.
It’s 2020, and incoming PM Adam Masters, played with shambling indecision and ingrained fear of the press by Timothy Bentinck is torn between rival wings of his party. He appoints as Brexit Secretary a pro-Brussels female MP with the stamp of an Anna Soubry, played as a ruthless Snapchatting harpy by Pippa Evans, but as Trade minister a staunch Brexiteer, splendidly realised by Thom Tuck as an oleaginous Michael Gove type who must need hosing down with a degreasing agent after every performance.
It’s a game setup, but some impeded agility on the tight stage and some characters not quite being crisp enough with the lines makes it feel intermittently underpowered and static. It’s also slightly oddly cast with excellent comedians Pippa Evans and Lucy Montgomery playing senior politicians 20 years before they’d realistically achieve such promotion.
Montgomery plays a seasoned EU negotiator and has some killer observations about the nature of the Community, but they’d have more impact if they came from a more realistic Merkel figure. Tracey Ullman, anyone?
Although there are decent laugh-out-loud jokes which please both sides, it’s all a bit Radio 4 Friday night comedy podcast and you miss the glorious balancing act of Yes, Minister, the urgent topicality of The Now Show or – despite Paul Connell’s convincing turn as the PM’s despairing political advisor – the energising filthy invective of Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It.
Still, unlike Brexit itself, at least it’s all over in 75 minutes.