Omnibus Theatre, London – until 20 April 2019
Tony’s Last Tape arrives at Clapham’s Omnibus, four years after Andy Barrett’s perceptive work first played at the Nottingham Playhouse. A one-act monologue that lasts a little over an hour, Philip Bretherton plays an 87-year-old Tony Benn, surrounded by gadgets and looking back upon aspects of his life.
A cleverly written piece, fictional in its detail yet drawn from and inspired by Benn’s diaries and speeches, it is a credit to Barrett (as he explains in a programme forward) that snatches of his playtext are now being mistakenly attributed as actual quotes from Benn himself.
The work will appeal most to those who recall the man and remember his politics. With pipe sometimes gripped between his teeth, Bretherton offers up a portrait of one of the nation’s most distinguished post-war politicians. While his acting is sometimes more caricature than cameo, is nonetheless instantly recognisable. There is much to ponder on in Barrett’s narrative.
We see Benn’s commitment not only to workers’ rights, but also a profound sense of patriotic national pride too. Some argue today that socialism and nationalism are mutually exclusive – but Benn brings us back to a time when the country’s Left at least purported to be built on decency – a far cry from the shambles of today’s Labour movement.
Barrett tells us that Benn nailed the quasi-fascist, non-elected bureaucrats of the European Union too – and as one listens to his philosophies amidst the current shambles of a Brexit negotiation that Theresa May continues to flounder in, we weep at how the wisdom of Benn and his ilk has been so roundly ignored by a Prime Minister’s embarrassing prostrations before Brussels.
Tony’s Last Tape is brilliant theatre for its time – but deeply depressing too.