views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Above the Arts
6th May 2015


Even on the day of the General Election itself, there were still agonising discussions going on up and down the country. "Should I vote for who I think would best represent my constituency?" "Should I vote for who I believe should be the leader of the UK?" "Maybe I shouldn't vote for who I really want to win, and instead vote for someone I don't particularly like to make sure someone I really hate doesn't get elected?" If ever there was a year in which it was made clear that politics is much more than simply putting a cross in a box, this was it. It's perhaps "the greatest game of all" and comes with a bafflingly complex set of rules.

Alan Cox as Max Newman

Enter Boris Johns... um... Max Newman MP (Alan Cox), "a teddy bear crossed with a serial killer". He's a clumsy buffoon who has inexplicably weathered scandal after scandal and somehow endeared himself to both his party and his public. Sound familiar? Running against him is young, enthusiastic but ultimately inexperienced Dan Regan MP (Laurence Dobiesz), who isn't even convinced himself that he's in with a shot of winning, but as whip Eleanor Hopkirk MP (Joanna Bending) points out, sometimes it's more about "positioning". There's more than one game in progress here and Dan may still take home a prize of sorts.

Above the Arts is an intimate studio with a good old-fashioned bar in the back corner, making this an ideal space to work with when trying to create a secret office somewhere in Westminster. Stick in a writing desk, a leather upholstered armchair, a richly patterned rug - yah, yah, yah, this certainly becomes a believable meeting spot for old boys. Director Hannah Eidinow makes good use of the thrust layout to move her pieces - sorry, actors - around the board - sorry, stage. She often deliberately has the actors stand slightly off-stage to make us feel slightly on it ourselves, putting the audience in the heart of the action. When you feel as if the plot is untangling all around you rather than merely passively happening in front, it's hard not to get drawn in.

Kingmaker pitches itself as a satirical play and although the comparisons to BoJo are rather inevitable and obvious, that doesn't mean it's not an intelligent piece too. Admittedly, you can't help but laugh at Cox's initial entrance and his strangely polished bumbling mannerisms, but once you get past the easy laughs of recognition from his performance, there's plenty to amuse in the dialogue itself. Co-writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky explain and dissect the game, breaking up the live action with soliloquies which contrast between the three politicians' poker faces and how they're actually feeling.

Eleanor is initially presented to us as cold and calculating - perhaps the price of being so intrinsically involved in what is depicted as a man's world - but we do see glimpses of the softer emotions driving her harsh behaviour. She may plot and scheme like the best of them, but she's by far the most fleshed out character with Bending putting in a very credible delivery. Cox is perfectly cast as Max, at times a funny simpleton and at others, deadly dangerous. You can appreciate why a certain recently elected MP and Mayor of London might not find this a flattering comparison, but amongst all the jokes, it's made clear that Max at least is an ordinary person and fallibility is a relatable trait. This isn't a straightforward character assassination, we do see some positive aspects as well. Two's company, three's a crowd and whilst there's nothing to fault about what Dobiesz brings to the production, the part of Dan is very much a supporting role.

With the Tories now back at Downing Street and stronger than ever, it's perhaps less likely that someone like Max would end up seizing the leadership and running the country. However, it's still an interesting alternate future and as the exit polls proved, sometimes the most seemingly rock solid predictions fail to materialise into fact. Kingmaker is most assuredly a thought-provoking and well-executed scenario, with depressingly plausible and unsettling detail.

Kingmaker ran from 4th to 23rd May 2015 at Above the Arts.

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