The plot revolves around Cal Chandler (Louis Maskell), whose power-hungry mother Violet (Liz May Brice) and Machiavellian uncle Grahame (Miles Western) groom him for political office after his presidential candidate father (Peter Gallagher) goes one better than Bill Clinton and dies whilst having sexual relations with his secretary.
Cal isn’t too keen, but is sucked into Violet and Grahame’s plotting, first earning some stripes in the army, then marrying a “suitable” wife before becoming a local council member and then governor. He pays a high price for his rapid rise to the top, becoming entangled with drugs, an ex-stripper and the local mob.
The staging and direction by Michael Strassen is minimalist and dark (in both senses of the word), providing a suitably edgy atmosphere. The cast all bite into their roles with relish, but the three central performances in particular are superb.
Brice’s Violet is perfectly judged – a grimly determined, gin-swilling political matriarch committed to elevating her son to the presidency whatever it takes, but enlisting others to do most of the dirty work.
Western’s Grahame is bitter and scheming, using Cal as a vessel to act out political dreams that were denied by his brother and childhood polio. His caustic delivery of the script is excellent.
But it is Maskell as Cal who stands out. His vocals are particularly strong, running the full range from boyish vulnerability to hard-nosed defiance. Some of his phrasing is slightly unusual, but in the best possible way; his voice, together with a magnetic stage presence, set him apart and he is undoubtedly one to watch out for in the future.
As seems to happen fairly regularly in London’s fringe theatres, the music on occasion obscured the lyrics, despite the actors giving their all. Hopefully this can be addressed as it did sap some of the power from the piece.
Nevertheless, this is a strong show with an excellent cast and is definitely worth a visit, whether your interest is politics, musical theatre or spotting the potential big names of the future.