It seems that hating the government is the thing to do at the moment, so it is hardly surprising that after last year’s successful run, Soho Theatre is re-staging this adaptation of Chris Mullin’s political diaries.
Does Chris Mullin not ring a bell? He was the Labour MP for Sunderland South between 1987 and 2010 and a Junior Minister during the Blair (a.k.a The Man) era. An idealist leftie, Mullin briefly covered junior ministerial posts prior to becoming Blair’s African Minister at the Foreign Office, despite having caused some friction after voting against the government on the Iraq war. It is evident that Mullin, like most people back in the day, was attracted by Blair’s charm and infectious optimism, whilst also being appalled by his slavish affection for “the worst American president of my lifetime”, George W. Bush.
Blending the gossip, insight and details of the ministerial frustrations and backbench life is no easy task, but the performance is superb under Max Robert’s direction. With his charmingly awkward air of inquisition, John Hodgkinson captures Mullin’s mix of lack of confidence and decency. The other characters are cleverly brought to life by Hywel Morgan (whose Blair’s impersonation had many thinking that The Man himself was actually in the room), and Noma Dumezweni, Tracy Gillian and Howard Ward in a play that showcases political theatre at its best and delivers many punchy one-liners, which will no doubt leave you in hysterics.
Perhaps the key to the performance’s success was its simplicity; the actors sit around the stage on chairs that are occasionally moved to give the audience a basic idea of setting and place. Fast-paced and colourful, Max Robert’s production travels at lightning speed through its two hour running time.
Despite laughing almost continually, what really resonated was Mullin’s more serious longing to “be useful” – the underlying premise that not matter how successful one is, the desire to become significant remains strong. Instead of just exposing the complete absurdity of Westminster’s bureaucracy, the play exposes the increasingly urgent need for more independent-minded MPs such as Mullin, who always act on principle rather than on personal preference. I inadvertently left Soho Theatre with a refreshed political knowledge and with the play’s positive closing line playing over in my mind: “One side wins, one side loses, and the loser lives to fight another day”.
A Walk On Part is playing at Soho Theatre until 14 April. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.