KINGMAKER Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Here is a cheerful, dishevelled Alan Cox as Max Newman, London Mayor turned Tory MP. He’s a seemingly bumbling, teddybearish, pratfalling, polysyllabic Beano favourite, disguising his laser-sharp political brain by uttering lines like “Crikey-what-a-tower-of-preposterous-piffle”, with a lovable authenticity which as his sworn enemy Eleanor Hopkirk MP snarls, “takes enormous technique”. Guess who..


In this tale, the PM is resigning, and Max wants the leadership. But he wants to be elected, not to be the Tories’ Gordon Brown: there is only one rival left in the race, the green youngster Dan Regan. The two of them are summoned secretly to a basement office by Eleanor (Joanna Bending) , who is Chief Whip. She suspects Max of getting some of his followers to vote for Dan (Laurence Dobiesz), in order to make him seem a credible rival. That would obviously give Max more lustre when he inevitably wins. But the Whip has a plan to topple him, act kingmaker to Dan and probably control him in office. Her motive tangles politics and personal anims: she thinks Max a bully, a game-player with no ideals, and wants to blackmail him over provoking a suicide long ago.
The play sees the verbal duel between the two, with Dan as the third point of the triangle. But in trying to keep us gripped by this squalid insiderish Westminster-bubble scene for an hour the writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky have bitten off a lot, and given its excellent director Hannah Eidinow a tricky task. I enjoyed Khan and Salinsky’s last political romp much more: indeed being set in the closing weeks of a Con-Lib government it would feel more topical right now than this one’s peering into a Borisoid future. Writing about that earlier play, COALITION, I called it a “ near- credible story, its sharp lines underpinned by a real apprehension of what practical power entails”. This one doesn’t get that far.


It has its moments, especially when Cox demonstrates the humble line he will take on Newsnight to defuse the old scandal. And the whip has one speech offering a devastatingly accurate analysis of the Max technique for fighting off difficult subjects: bumbling bafflement, quick pivot, attempt at flattery, anger, then a head-down-rugby-scrum attack and finally the little-boy-lost look.
That’s good. But it’s not quite enough. to 24 August

Rating:  three   3 Meece Rating

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