Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)
10 February 2020 (released)
11 February 2020
The play starts by giving us a seat at the table of the fateful dinner party in 2016 when a vacillating Boris Johnson made the decision to campaign for leaving the EU. It’s easy to see why Jonathan Maitland, the writer, saw rich dramatic potential in this event and the multiple ways Bojo offers satirists a soft target.
Will Barton raises laughs right from the start with his keenly observed impersonation of our current prime minister. From his recognisable gait, the unique speech pattern and emphatic mannerisms to the talented rendering of a script littered with true to life phrases, it’s a short step from hearing words Boris actually spoke to believing in those he might yet speak. Although fiction, it feels all too true. We explore Boris’s inner turmoil as he flounders while making the decision. The real life dinner party guests, Michael Gove, his journalist wife Sarah Vine, the Evening Standard proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev and Boris’s then wife, lawyer, Marina Wheeler, are all shown to influence Boris but throughout he stays focused on his one key aim – putting himself first.
Boris’s sense of his own destiny are emphasised through imagined speeches with Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. It’s made abundantly clear that rather than following a principled, impassioned or reasoned approach to choosing his political direction, Boris is keen to follow the path which has the best outcome for himself and is sharp witted in preparing a convincing rhetoric that will justify that choice. Churchill who flipped his own allegiance from the Tories to the Lib Dems and back again advises that making a political choice is like choosing a horse, he urges Boris to pick the one that will take him furthest, fastest.
The first Act deals with recent history right up to Boris being elected as prime minister. Apparently, the play has been tweaked since it was first performed in May 2019 keeping it up to date with topical events, quite an admirable feat in a rapidly changing political scene. It works by portraying what we already know has happened and this builds the familiarity which will take us through to believing the story in the imagined future of the second act when we are catapulted forward to 2029. The satire becomes sharper as we see predictions of what’s to come. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises but there’s plenty to tickle a wry audience.
Overall, the production plays safe. It would probably appeal to Johnson fans as well as his critics. He’s presented affectionately, he paints his failings as strengths. His willingness to ‘turn’ an asset as he’s malleable enough to react to events and be elastic. I don’t feel this production has enlightened me but it’s amusing, contemporary and entertaining with a good smattering of both verbal and visual gags. I particularly enjoyed the ‘oven ready’ pie Margaret Thatcher hands to Boris as she stridently commands him to leave the EU. He promptly burns Lebedev’s hands by passing the hot pie straight to him.