Review: The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson, Northern Stage

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson is the latest political comedy from broadcaster and playwright Jonathan Maitland. Featuring Will Barton as Boris Johnson, the play looks at the current Prime Minister’s motivations to vote ‘leave’.  Alongside Johnson, you’ll find a host of influential figures in the mix including Michael Gove, Sarah Vine and Marina Wheeler. The project was originally co-funded by Art50, a Sky Arts scheme set to explore the notion of British Identity.

Barton’s Boris Johnson is convincing in manner and voice. We meet him pre-interview with Huw Edwards. He checks himself in the mirror and, in a calculated move to make himself seem scruffier and presumably less threatening, he messes up his hair. The joke points to the curation of his public image; outwardly he’s a  harmless buffoon but behind-the-scenes he’s a man with a plan.

Pre-interval, the play looks at the run-up to Brexit and Johnson’s manoeuvrings around the campaign. The set design makes his Islington home uncanny; it’s initially a space we recognise as mirroring clean-cut, modern interiors but there’s something in the lack of personality and grey colour palette that feels dystopian. In 2016, Johnson sits down to dinner with Michael and Sarah Gove who, over hummus and carrot batons and bottomless glasses of red,  nudge him towards a decision.

Then Margaret Thatcher appears in oven pushing the satirical into the surreal. Winston Churchill and Tony Blair show up too. Each past prime-minster influences our protagonist’s wavering sense of clarity on the subject until, after Hamlet-like hesitation and a grandiose soliloquy or two to boot, he eventually reaches his conclusion.

In Act Two, we’re propelled into the future. It’s 2029 and in a post-Brexit Britain Johnson is out of luck. The red has turned into whiskey (and lots more of it) and he’s out of political favour.  But when the opportunity presents to earn his position back in the spotlight will he take it? 

In all honesty, the difficulty I found in sitting through a play about Boris Johnson, is that I can’t stand Boris Johnson (which maybe I should’ve considered from the outset). Disregarding my personal bias, the problem with The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson is a lack of commitment. The work implies Boris Johnson as an opportunist but it’s not nearly acerbic or deft or silly enough to land.

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson is playing Northern Stage until 22 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Northern Stage website.