It is inevitable that Coalition will be compared to political comedy powerhouse The Thick Of It. This, unfortunately, does Coalition no favours. Where TTOI is strident and brutal in its deconstruction of the Westminster political machine, Coalition meanders eventually to its long drawn out and plodding conclusion.
The year is 2015. A general election looms large on the political horizon and Matt Cooper (played with frantic energy by Thom Tuck) is the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister of a tired and squabbling coalition government. Cooper is both a weary and manic figure, desperately attempting, and ultimately failing, to keep the Lib Dems from self-destruction. He sees his MPs desert literally from left, right and centre, all the while facing accusations of putting (very limited) power before principle.
Of the cast, Jo Caulfield impresses most as the frustrated Lib Dem Chief Whip Angela Hornby, whilst Phill Jupitus plays to the gallery with his portrayal of the Machiavellian Sir Francis Whitford MP, a dandified and thoroughly hammed up Conservative minister of the old-school Tory mould, who appears to be entirely “made of gout” according to Cooper. The rest of the company are routine in this stock political character box-ticking exercise: the clueless political-advisor-turned-MP, the northern loose cannon, the secretary run ragged, the aloof yet suave Prime Minister, etcetera etcetera.
This is writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky’s debut play, and it is pretty evident from the outset. There is a naivety and confusion about their work, which provides it with a dull whimper rather than the loud bang so craved by the audience. Why, for instance, when the Lib Dems, the Conservatives and other real life political events are referred to so explicitly in the text, are the party leaders fictional? Why constantly play for cheap laughs, laughs which are laboured rather than appearing effortless or organic, instead of exploring further character development? An example of this was the nervous breakdown Cooper was clearly having on stage; why not pause for poignancy and allow for some sympathy, instead of steamrolling through to the next set-up scene? It is also puzzling that whilst Coalition serves to critique the Westminster bubble, this appears to be where the production’s key audience demographic stems from.
It is perhaps apt that Coalition is dedicated to Nick Clegg, “without whom this would have been inconceivable”, for just like the real life Lib Dem leader, Coalition, which starts off brightly with the best intentions and promising to deliver so much, ultimately ends up a bit of a disappointment.
Coalition is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 10 March.