Pros: A humorous, slick and interesting behind-the-scenes look at Westminster politics.
Cons: This was a one hour show that felt like it was just getting started. It didn’t feel substantial enough for a Saturday night out at the theatre; more of an appetiser than a main course.
Kingmaker is part of a genre of plays about the process of politics, delving deeper into the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing rife in political life. It put me in mind of such plays as This House and Confessions of Gordon Brown., the main difference being that Kingmaker uses fictitious politicians (although one of them is apparently based on Boris Johnson) as opposed to being based on historical events and real politicians. John McCann’s excellent new play Spoiling, recently performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East, also comes to mind as a political play set at the beginning of a separatist Scotland. There certainly appears to be an appetite at the moment for political satire and plays based in the world of parliamentary politics.
Performed in St. James Theatre, the venue incorporates a 312 seat theatre, a 100 seat Studio space, and a broadcasting tv facility which enables shows to be broadcast to a worldwide audience via online television. This was the first time I had visited the theatre and on entering it could be mistaken for an up-market London hotel, especially due to the eye-popping, enormous 30 tonne marble staircase designed by Mark Humphrey and named the Final Encore.
In Kingmaker, two ministers are left in the running for the Tory leadership; Dan Regan (Laurence Dobiesz) is young, ambitious and “wet behind the ears”. Max Newman (Alex Cox) is older, more cynical and corrupt but popular with the public, despite his history of gaffs and minor scandals. They are brought together in an uncomfortable meeting by Tory Whip Eleanor Hopkirk as part of her plot to upset Max’s plans and get revenge for a long held grudge. Hopkirk is played with a good mixture of steely determination underpinned by the vulnerability of Joanna Bending, who has no desire for the top job herself, but seeks to sway the leadership election towards her own preferred outcome. Personal vendettas, manipulation, blackmail and the back room skulduggery of party politics are played out in a fast paced and not unrealistic script. Cox is excellent as Max Newman, an arrogant bully who passes himself off as a loveable rogue and whose foibles the electorate seem only too willing to forgive.
The play received positive reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and would sit comfortably in a festival schedule alongside other hour long one act performances. However, it feels too short to make for a satisfying theatre experience on its own and the play was just beginning to get into its stride when it came to an abrupt end. The themes and plot would benefit from further exploration and it could be seen as a work in progress.
Authors: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
Director: Hannah Eidinow
Booking Until: Kingmaker ended its current run on 27th September.