There is no final victory, Tony Benn once said of the socialist cause, just the same battles which have to be fought over and over again. Once described as the ‘most dangerous man in Britain’, Benn was a Member of Parliament for nearly fifty years, during which time he served in two Labour governments, lost a leadership battle to Neil Kinnock, and fought for socialism, even when his party abandoned the cause.
Political plays, or plays about politicians, are naturally divisive, but there is enough here to please people from across the political spectrum – dare I say it, even Conservatives. Achieving a fine balance of political and personal reflection, Tony’s Last Tape is a warm and poignant tribute to a great man.
Based on Tony Benn’s diaries, the play sees Benn (Philip Bretherton) ruminate in his study over his life, his friends, rivals, and a storied political career. True to the man, there is great wit and humour than runs through the play, but a palpable melancholy too, as he wonders, as we all must do in our declining years, whether it was all worth it.
Philip Bretherton is incredible as Benn. The accent, the fiery oratory – even the way in which he held a hand to his face – it’s all there, and vividly realised by an actor who truly embodies the man, his mannerisms, and his spirit of righteous defiance, charm and charisma. He is well-directed by Giles Croft, who keeps the monologue engaging with some smart stagecraft and symbolic use of props, from a toy megaphone, overripe bananas, and of course, a tobacco pipe.
The only drawback of Tony’s Last Tape is that it does rely on its audience having some knowledge of British political history. If I had not known who Tony Benn was, nor the many British politicians referenced throughout the play, I might have found its subject matter difficult to engage with. The allusions to speeches, rivalries, and current (perhaps interminable) Labour squabbles will delight those in-the-know, but could easily leave others none-the-wiser.
In all, Tony’s Last Tape is a wonderful and worthwhile exploration of a politician, statesman, and campaigner for the left. Andy Barrett has written a touching play that honours Benn’s legacy while smartly referring to the present. Throughout the talk of bitterly close elections and battles that need fighting, I could not help but be reminded of the left’s current resurgence, and Benn’s equally divisive (yet perhaps less well-liked) protégé, Jeremy Corbyn. A fantastic show, and one that will inspire the left, amuse the right, and entertain everyone in-between.
Author: Andy Barrett
Director: Giles Croft
Box Office: 0207 498 4699
Booking Link: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/tonys-last-tape/
Booking Until: 20th April 2019