It was only a matter of time before the current craze for “verbatim” theatre – the recycling by actors of interviews with real people in order to make a political point – embraced the celebrity culture. In Life After Scandal, Robin Soans has unpicked a series of scandalous affairs that all blazed in the glare of media attention.
At either end of the historical span, we have Lord Montagu of Beaulieu recalling his prosecution for homosexual offences with boy scouts and airmen before the age of tolerance and legality; and Neil and Christine Hamilton blustering on blithely after the end of the former’s political career as a result of the “brown envelopes” affair – taking cash payment for asking questions in the House of Commons.
Interestingly, Lord Montagu and the Hamiltons were in the first night audience, as if to confirm that we don’t really remember what they were guilty of any more. If indeed they were guilty at all.
But Soans preserves the simmering rage of Jonathan Aitken, who perjured himself in a libel action against the Guardian, the vengeful gleefulness of Edwina Currie, spilling the beans on her affair with John Major after a political rebuff, and Margaret Cook, coolly dissecting the way in which Tony Blair undermined her husband Robin’s ethical credibility by exploiting his (Robin Cook’s) affair with his own secretary.
Soans is an extremely good interviewer and an adept organiser of material. While the story of any one or perhaps three of these characters might have made a good play, you feel that pushing them all together makes for a series of entertaining sketches rather than organic drama. And Soans doesn’t really confront the central question of whether or not redemption is possible through media exposure, or through social and civic dedication, as it so movingly was in the case of John Profumo.
Profumo is fleetingly referred to – as is Posh Spice, who’s revealed on a Google search to have achieved her goal: to be more famous than Persil Automatic. The script is full of such fascinating nuggets, and the shadow of a play even threatens to emerge when the three lords-a-lying – Montagu (Tim Preece), the dodgy car dealer Lord Brocket (Bruce Alexander) and the phoney aristocrat Duncan Roy (Simon Coates) – open their hearts like true veterans of the class war.
Anthony Clark’s handsome production on a plush restaurant setting by Patrick Connellan, tries valiantly to impose a sense of ensemble. Caroline Quentin is outstanding as the magnificently flighty and shameless Christine Hamilton; Michael Mears is her Neil, a sort of willing, smiley accomplice in the recovery process of selling off bits of china and appearing in pantomime in Guildford.