There are a host of productions knocking about this year’s Fringe which concern themselves with how ghastly the political class are [Tychy will be reviewing “Coalition” next week]. Perhaps a consensus has emerged that the only idealism to be found within modern politics concerns the individual politician’s ideals for their own future. Tobias Wright’s new play “Right Honourable Member” has been produced by the youth theatre company FreeRange Productions and it is presently playing at C Aquila. The greatest thing to be said in this play‘s favour is that it thoroughly masters its subject. The awfulness of modern politics in general – and of New Labour in particular – are captured with unsparing exactitude.
The budding young politician Connie (Emily Spetch) is visiting the “Youth Parliament” in Brussels as part of a school trip. After she addresses the parliament on the question of gay marriage, her fellow delegates are so appalled by her “patronising” speech that they pass a vote of no confidence in her. Connie is conniving to study PPE at Oxford and bag an internment at the Labour Party’s head office – the same royal road on which most of the current Labour shadow cabinet have journeyed to high office. Yet after her humiliation, Connie fears that she is already sliding back down the greasy pole. Presumably, as a title, “the greasy pole” was a double-entendre too far for this play.
Although only 17, Connie has seemingly assumed a life of monkish chastity in her devotion to politics. Yet we meet Connie back at her hotel room, where she is waiting for the arrival of a male escort, Vince (Matthew Hopkinson). Connie claims that she only needs a sympathetic ear and she will otherwise remain as pure as Robespierre, whether as a result of inexperience or indifference to desire. As the story progresses, however, we have cause to wonder whether Connie’s innocence is quite so innocent.
In the bedroom, Connie talks exclusively about politics and Vince, who is the only representative of the British voter to hand, finds it all Greek to him. This “disconnect” between voter and politician is heavily underscored through a succession of rather flat jokes – Vince has heard of Margaret Thatcher, for example, because she won an Oscar. The hypocrisy of New Labour is more effectively grasped when the 17 year old Connie fortifies herself by gulping down a massive dose of vodka. Under the hundreds of alcohol laws passed during the Blair/Brown years, she would probably get an ASBO for this if she was on a British housing estate.
“Right Honourable Member” is clearly influenced by the cynical BBC sitcom “The Thick of It.” If we were watching this play through a camera, it would wobble. Connie demonstrates the same combination of vicious manipulation and utter brainlessness which often characterises the politicians in “The Thick of It” and we accordingly witness the same cringeworthy disasters. The moral of this story is that Connie is simply a toad, but the trouble with this is that it is not really a moral.
With the arrival of what looks like a genuinely idealistic young politician (Lucille Balinska), there is a danger that Connie’s ghastliness can be simply attributed to her own character, rather than to the culture which forged her character. Moreover, New Labour was defined by an institutional conviction that the poor were subhuman, and in this respect it is unfortunate for the play’s satire that the ordinary voter Vince is as decent and simple as Uncle Tom. His dog has just died and he looks mostly like he wants to be mothered rather than fucked.
Whilst Hopkinson’s performance is equal to the writing, the play is a bit too demanding for the rest of the cast. Connie flows from one rant to the next with the gusto of a Bond villain who is revealing his plans for world domination, and Spetch starts to droop somewhat under all of the exertion. There is a lot of good writing in the play, but Wright needs an editor to put a foot down at times. Nevertheless, if anybody requires any further lessons in the griminess of contemporary politics, this play proves heartily satisfying. If only Connie’s fate had befallen all of today’s politicians at 17.