Almost a year after the expenses scandal first broke, public ire still
seems fresh – witness the take-off of Nick Clegg’s election aspirations
as soon as the subject was raised in Thursday night’s debate.
A subject ripe for satire then, thought political editor of
Metro, John Higginson, and Clodagh Hartley,
The Sun’s Whitehall editor, whose play on the topic,
Stiffed!, has just opened at Turnham Green’s Tabard
Theatre. They weren’t necessarily wrong – a good play about the scandal
might emerge one day, though it’s difficult to envisage what new takes
there can be on the much-documented saga – but sadly, the pair fail to
pull it off.
Stiffed!’s plot kicks off with a landslide
by-election victory for progressive young Tory, Quentin Dellaware
(Brendan Murphy). He arrives, idealistic, in Westminster, only to be
shown the ropes by his old school-friend, George Moore-Lys (Matthew
Neal), the out-of-touch Shadow Chancellor, who advises him on
home-flipping and the like. Appalled at the status quo, Dellaware leaks
MPs’ expenses claims to journalist Sally Pauper (Laura Evelyn), giving
rise to what MPs see as a media siege on Westminster.
If you followed the saga in the press even slightly, there is
nothing new here. One of the main characters is Paula Stiff (Emma
Manton), a Labour minister embarrassed by a porn video being claimed
among her expenses (the fate of former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith),
whilst the claims for duck houses, moats and Kit Kats are, of course,
name checked. There are, however, neither the good jokes nor the novel
analysis required to raise the play beyond a rushed rehash of recent
events. The underlying problem – successive governments’ unwillingness
to increase MPs’ basic salaries for fear of the media outcry – is
touched on but never examined.
The cast is game enough, however, with Marc Wall putting in an
entertaining imitation of former Commons Speaker Michael Martin
(depicted in puppet form), as well as an amusing (if at times
over-the-top) turn as a deranged newspaper impresario. Murphy is also
adept as the awkward Dellaware, unversed in the ways of Westminster.
The scene in which the newcomer tries to find his way around the
labyrinthine palace only to be met with closing door after closing door
is a fine one, testament to Christopher Hone’s inventive, versatile
All in all, Dan Herd’s production has plenty of nice touches and
is pleasantly jaunty, but is ultimately let down by a very thin script.