“The country’s buggered.” So declares David Verrey as political guru Marcus in Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s new play, The Charming Man. In a delicious performance, Verrey lectures on the problems of politics in 2015 in language so colourful that it goes beyond Tory blue, Labour red or Lib Dem gold – into green. Politics has reached such a nadir that the Greens are the only party that might possibly win power.
What the Greens still need is a leader with charisma. Enter youth worker Darren, played so endearingly by Syrus Lowe that it’s easy to imagine him as the political phenomenon he becomes. The public may want the honest, open character Lowe portrays so wonderfully, but is it really ready for a black, gay Prime Minister who used to wear gold hot pants and dance to The Smiths?
If the answer to that seems pretty obvious, you might wonder at the compromises Darren undertakes in order to try and change minds. Yet his well-trodden path to corruption is both funny and moving. His party colleagues, played terrifically by Sarah Berger and Kate Sissons, who lose ideals but get plenty of laughs, tutor him. Their clever performances suggest passion and melancholy in turn. Darren’s partner Luke is left by the way, of course, which seems a shame given the great comedy Sam Pamphilon brings to the scenes he is in.
Much of The Charming Man might seem like a ruder, current take on Yes, Minister with comedy more suited to our times, but a similar eye to conspiracy that doesn’t convince. The idea that those in power can manipulate to such a degree seems to inflate their abilities beyond credulity. Business backing for politicians occurs, of course, but surely never to the extent of Kenny Fox (Christopher Brandon), the arch villain who takes over the Green Party as a plaything.
But there is more to the night than this. Director Paul Robinson is also joint artistic head of the theatre itself and he can spot them; the venue’s reputation for ‘fearless’ new writing is sure to be enhanced by Bisset-Smith’s achievement.
Moving past standard political satire, The Charming Man reaches realms of fantasy that are inspiring. The sillier the play becomes, the funnier it is and the truer it rings. As Fox’s insults against the English increase in pace, Brandon injects a mania that is gleeful. The idea of a TV show called Liberal Democrats on Ice is genius in its absurdity. But could anyone ever really have imagined Tory stalwart Ann Widdecombe on Strictly Come Dancing? Maybe the future really does wear gold hot pants.
Until 13 November 2010
Photo by Graham Turner
Written 25 October 2010 for The London Magazine