How much do people in England know about Scotland and the impending independence referendum? And how much do they actually care? Some questions for the marketing team at Theatre Royal Stratford East to ponder as it welcomes to its studio space a play that surely resonates stronger in Strathclyde than Stratford.
Spoiling is certainly topical. With Scotland set to go to the ballot box on 18 September, John McCann’s play locks its sights on Fiona, the fictional Foreign Minister of Scotland as she prepares to make the maiden speech of an independent Scotland alongside her foreign (English) counterpart.
McCann’s writing reveals much about sentiments (fundamentally anti-Tory and pro-independence) in Scotland, yet some themes in politics transcend borders, for instance the role of women within the Westminster or Holyrood bubble. Women MPs are portrayed in the media as either insipid or grotesque, as creatures unable to make a decision or sport a decent haircut, but here McCann’s (heavily pregnant) Fiona is very, very human. Whether chomping on a teacake or denouncing ‘the Eton mess’ running the remainder of the UK, here is a woman who is vocal, passionate and engaging.
There is also an interesting exploration between the relationships within politics. Fiona is clearly a conviction politician, yet is dictated to by the Orwellian-sounding ‘party’ as well as the fresh-faced turncoats, with their PPE from Oxbridge, who swarm and thrive within politics, unaccountable to the general public. The balance of power shifts constantly between Fiona and Henderson, the shifty party apparatchik, sent to ensure that Fiona stays firmly ‘on-message’. This is all morbidly riveting stuff. I do, perhaps inevitably, sense the long shadow of The Thick of It over political dramas like this, however. From my own stint as a parliamentary intern, during the phone-hacking scandal no less, I can well vouch for the sweariness of politicians. The boring truth is however that shit and fuck don’t actually make up every other word, and this did at times make things a little unbelievable.
Leaving aside McCann’s additional expletives, his crisp writing is accompanied by very strong performances. Gabriel Quigley is charming as Fiona, no longer prepared to accept the depressing suppression of true passion and ideology in order to cater for the party line. Richard Clements is appropriately sweaty and agitated as Henderson, frantically trying to both lead and follow Fiona. They are both well directed by Orla O’Loughlin, artistic director of Traverse Theatre Company.
“Scotland is more at threat from the Tories than the Taliban” says Fiona. I wish the first Foreign Minister of the independent Scotland the very best of luck. And I bet you her speech blows those Westminster dweebs out of the water.
Spoiling is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 13 September. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre Royal Stratford East website. Photo by Jeremy Abrahams.