Appeasement, Brexit, Chamberlain: Peace in Our Time, Colin Alexander, David Leeson, David Robinson, Edinburgh Fringe, Greenside @ Nicolson Square, Guilty Men, Lord Andrew Adonis, Neville Chamberlain, Searchlight Theatre Company, Second World War, Theatre Review
This new play from David Robinson depicts a moustachioed hate figure from the Second World War. No, not that one – the other one! When Neville Chamberlain (David Leeson) shows his face, the audience don’t boo and chuck bottles – we have grown more sophisticated since the days when the pre-war Prime Minister was considered one of the Guilty Men. We meet a haggard and self-justifying Chamberlain as the entire appeasement Ponzi scheme falls apart around him. He is counting down to when the deadline for Hitler’s capitulation will have passed and he will be obliged to announce the commencement of hostilities. A flunky (Colin Alexander) offers commiserations and whisky, though he otherwise looks like a barman who is trying to clean up as the last customer remains oblivious to all of those subtly dropped hints.
“Chamberlain: Peace in Our Time” has been brought to Greenside on Nicolson Square by Searchlight Theatre. Leeson’s Chamberlain is so lifelike that he could have pranced straight out of Madame Tussauds’, by which I mean that he looks dim and furtive, a shabby Victorian who knows that he is out of his depth now that totalitarianism’s hour has come. He harrumphs about honour through his moustache. He maintains that he is the “right man” in the wrong hour, though everything would be probably just a mess if he was in charge of an old curiosity shop.
The play is all primary sources, as we used to say in school, and it is more of a portrait of Chamberlain than a story about him. There are no unexpected insights into his character. This production might not welcome the news that it is merely an impersonation of Chamberlain, but it seems to have tacitly settled upon this modest ambition, and it achieves it with a more than modest success. It would be too small and spare as a one-man-play, and yet it essentially branches out into a pair of one-man shows. The second is a medley of heartening musical numbers that are being broadcast on the BBC whilst the nation is awaiting the declaration of war. Colin Alexander is the performer, on his feet with the BBC’s clockwork, evening-dress formality, but he mixes music-hall cheerfulness with moments of real operatic power. The songs offer a refreshing counter to Chamberlain’s dryness, or “frumpishness” as Chamberlain elsewhere admits about his role within his own marriage.
So why choose Chamberlain? In its mood, this is indeed a good piece for our time. The Labour peer Andrew Adonis recently caused mass offence and amusement by comparing Brexit to the appeasement of the Nazis. I am a Brexiteer myself but I confess to having been interested in the analogy. Both appeasement and Brexit were and are inevitable because they had and have a democratic impetus behind them. Chamberlain looks to me like a befuddled butler, who is gibbering beneath the stairs as he tries to carry out the people’s magnificent, elevated orders. Theresa May could well blend in as an accompanying chambermaid.