Venue: Star Theatre One, 145 Sir Donald Bradman Drive, Hilton
Season: 8pm Wed to Sat until 18th June, 6:30pm Sun 12th June (long weekend) 2011
Duration: 2hrs 40min incl interval
Tickets: adult $25/conc $20/groups 8+ $20
Bookings: 0439 533 173 or http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=8783&embed=8783
In Alistair Beaton’s play, the British Prime Minister, known to his staff as D. L., is due to make a major speech. The initials are not those of the Prime Minister, but an abbreviation of Divine Light, although there are alternative variations that they occasionally use. Beaton drew on his own experiences for the concepts explored in this work, as he was a speech writer for Gordon Brown. The party conference, taking place in a five star seaside hotel, has an anti-capitalist riot in the street outside as its background. That, however, is nothing compared to the effect that revelations about to be made in the Prime minster’s hotel suite will have.
His speech writer, Paul, and his Press Secretary, Eddie, are collaborating on the speech. They are joined by long time party member, George, and a scandal that he admits to threatens to bring down the Government. The more that he tells them about it, the worse it gets. Asha, the only woman on the team, arrives and attempts to impose her authority and they, in return, patronise her. To add to their problems, D. L. has sent for a television situation comedy scriptwriter, Simon, to assist them with the jokes in the speech.
Eddie discovers that a journalist has got wind of the scandal, and it turns out that the journalist is his ex-wife. She is also staying in the hotel and he goes to see her to try to ascertain just how much she knows. She appears to know everything and he tries to talk her out of publishing, even to the point of taking her to meet D. L., where she cuts a deal, promising not to publish in exchange for a major policy change by the Government.
Finally, D. L. makes his appearance and delivers his speech. He says that, in light of recent events, he has discarded the speech that he had prepared and intends to speak off the cuff. His speech contains a few surprises, but you will need to wait until the end of the play to find out what they are, which means that you will have to attend the production.
Sally Putnam has found a great cast and and crafted a tight production that looks at political manipulation and the spin that they put on reporting events. The primary question that is asked is about the lengths to which people will go and Putnam keeps a strong focus on the central theme whilst allowing the associated aspects to develop alongside.
Ben Brooker is Paul, giving us a convincing performance as a man caught between conflicting influences: his career, and his conscience. Brooker clearly shows us, in his fully developed characterisation, Paul’s transition from worrying about the speech and the effects that events are having on its construction, to his disillusionment and self-questioning. He tries to break free of the influence of Eddie, but Eddie is a powerful man.
Dave Simms plays Eddie and presents us with a man dedicated to winning and retaining power for his party, above all else. Simms cleverly creates a character who swings from outright heavy-handed tactics, to almost seductively trying to convince others to do his bidding. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Eddie is absolutely corrupt, even though the power is supposed to rest with his boss, D. L. For a moment we briefly see his human side as Simms gives us a sensitive glimpse at Eddie’s regret at the breakdown of his marriage, but he quickly regains his cold, calculating persona.
Philippa Ewens is Asha, a clever portrayal of an insecure token woman in a man’s world, trying to assert her authority, without acknowledging that she really doesn’t have any, the most important thing that she actually does is selecting the tie that D. l. will wear for his speech. Ewens portrayal makes us aware that Asha suspects that the others treat her partly as a nuisance and partly as a joke, but is in denial.
George is played by Paul Davies in an hilarious depiction of the bumbling, out of touch politician of an earlier generation who is till hanging on, to the embarrassment of the younger generation of political predators. In spite of the magnitude of his blundering he still thinks it can simply be swept under the carpet and Davies makes the most of the realisation that, this time, he might not be saved.
Lee Cook plays Simon, the gormless gag writer who is completely lost in trying to comprehend the enormity of all that is happening around him. Most of it goes over his head and what little he does understand he treats as a joke. Cook doesn’t miss a trick, finding every laugh available to him. His comic timing is spot on.
Nicole Rutty’s Liz is a stellar performance showing all of the emotional turmoil of having one of the biggest scoops of all time in her hands and balancing that against the chance to make real changes for good, as well as meeting up with her ex-husband and being torn between stirrings of the love she once had and her revulsion at what he has become.
Tony Busch makes a brief but telling appearance as D. L., drawing all of the threads together in a perfectly timed delivery of his speech. His pauses, accentuations of certain words and phrases, body language and facial expressions, often in direct opposition to what we, the audience know, is exactly right in the closing scene of this political satire.
The set is a wooden framework covered in bubble-wrap, depicting the walls of the Prime Minster’s suite. The combination of this emphasis on transparency, that actually is not very transparent at all, coupled with the flimsiness, is a good descriptor of our political parties and their policies. Corporate grey is the colour of the day, and of everyday, for these faceless men, these ‘talking suits’, the power behind the throne.
This would be even funnier if it was not for the fact that, every so often, it all starts to be a little too much like reality. One can hear phrases and fragments that sound frighteningly like our own current politicians, particularly when the play and the closing speech touch on illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, a hot topic world wide at the moment.
The Mixed Salad team have turned out yet another of their consistently high quality productions and it is well worth an evening out. This is one time when you will not be bored to death by politics and politicians.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.