2nd May 1997 (Manchester)
The 2nd May, 1997, saw an exhausted and somewhat dishonoured administration replaced by a new government that offered such promise. Despite the title Jack Thorne’s new play does not draw direct parallels between the political situations now and then. Instead he filters his political points through the perspective of three couples each of which is drawn from one of the three main parties.
In the most successful of the three short pieces Robert (Geoffrey Beavers) an ailing Tory politician and his loyal wife Marie (Linda Broughton) wait for the vote count that will lose him his seat. Robert has to acknowledge that he (and by extension his Party) never really fulfilled their promise but his sense of entitlement brings to mind the ongoing expenses scandal.
One of the main reasons for the success of this piece is that Beavers and Broughton manage to make us care about characters that really are not sympathetic. They convey not only the ease of an old married couple but also of a pair of weary campaigners who feel that their work and sacrifices have never been acknowledged yet are able to face defeat with a grace rare in politics.
This is followed by an uneasy comedy as a well-oiled party girl mistakenly takes home the wrong bloke. Hugh Skinner gives Lib-Dem Ian the kind of stiff, awkward performance that works well in a comedy of embarrassment. This is at odds with the very natural, but dark and disturbed, personality that Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings to Sarah. The result is an uneven piece leading to a conclusion that comes across as a little trite.
It also shows the limitations of the production as a whole. The set, by Hannah Clark, comprises a bed within a long, narrow rectangle. This wastes the intimacy of the studio theatre and leaves director George Perrin with such limited space that sometimes he has to frame his cast on either side of the bed across which they rather unrealistically communicate.
The promise of a new beginning that turns out to be a disappointment is shown in the final section. Students Jake (James Barrett) and Will (Jamie Samuel) awake on the day after the election in a position that embarrasses Jake and gives Will the courage to discuss his hopes – only to find them unreciprocated. It is a well-judged piece blending humour with hurt in a bittersweet way. Both actors are excellent with Samuel portraying much of his desperate need silently and Barrett showing, even at a young age, a politician’s knack for knowing when to make an exit.
You can’t help but feel that Thorne should have added a final sequence to reflect the people that are too often forgotten in politics – the voters, themselves.