A LATE BUT BRACING BOUQUET FOR THE NYT
Next to the Mousetrap and opposite the Ivy, in the grubby splendours of this pocket playhouse the National Youth Theatre’s rep company is packing its last few matinee-only houses. So it should: it was a smart move to revive (with the author’s skilful updates) James Graham’s 2008 play about the Conservative Party and gay rights.
Or, given that the said party has just endorsed same-sex marriage, the more difficult matter of gay acceptance in its own ranks. Graham, of course, lately wrote the NT hit THIS HOUSE about the 1970’s hung parliament, and this earlier work shows how he got to that remarkakble level while still under thirty. Hes grasp of the ambiguities, glories and absurdities of Parliamentary government has been refining over years.
Our hero Sam – subtly and touchingly played by Simon Lennon – is a young working-class northerner, a Tory research assistant with a passion for improving the world and particularly schools, which are his minister’s brief . Scenes where he explains civil government to lairy schoolchildren are terrific: you can almost smell the sweat and swagger of them as they role-play and bicker. “Sir, is the Chancellor really allowed to tell the Prime Minister to fuck off?”. But just as the kids have an ineradicable habit of using “gay” as a synonym for “rubbish”, so it is clear to Sam that as his arrogant chief of staff says, Europe and homosexuality are the party traditionalists’ two biggest emotional problems. If you want to freak one out, “offer him a copy of Attitude in one hand and a croissant in the other”.
Ambitious, idealistic, and shakily unable to get it on with a cheerful young suitor who keeps trying to date him, Sam becomes haunted, with a series of fifty-year flashbacks , by the young Ted Heath, beautifully evoked in all his forceful grumpy reticence by Niall McNamee. In a lovely touch, he does up the buckle of his raincoat with care before stepping out with his only female friend. Better safe than sorry. The historical imagined moments are neatly and clearly staged, and as Sam struggles towards clarity and self-acceptance through an obviously vain attempt to find out whether Prime Minister Heath was actually gay or not, the plot thickens nicely. And there are two very touching moments: Sam’s final encounter with the mouthy schoolboy Ray (Aaron Gordon) and a supernatural, but satisfying, colloquy with poor old Heath. The play will last; and some at least of its young cast will go a long way.
box office 084 4811 2334 to 29 Nov