Politics have been a goldmine for writers these last few years. American TV shows and movies all have cameos from cartoonish Trumps and sometimes whole seasons have been spurred on by the 2016 election.
Over here in Britain, it seems half the big new plays churned out concern current politics. Brexit analogies snake their way into every form of media. At this point, we have seen every narrative and heard every joke about politicians. And yet, we continue to be drawn in by these stories.
The title, The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson, drew me in instantly. The new play was written by Jonathan Maitland and starred Will Barton as the eponymous character. Based on the name alone, I was interested in seeing the play, despite having seen many disasters labelled ‘political satire’. The result? Meh.
The first act mainly followed the infamous 2016 dinner wherein Boris and Michael Gove discussed where they stood on Brexit. This led up to the events of last summer when the dreadful man was declared Prime Minister. Act two set the action ten years later. Boris was now considering re-entering the EU to secure himself a place as Prime Minister a second time around.
There were certainly some imaginative elements to the show; Boris was visited by spiritual versions of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and, oddly enough, Tony Blair. The impressions of these famous figures were spot on, as was Barton’s portrayal of Johnson. He had really been made to look the part too, with an imitation of the politician’s blonde crop.
It always felt like there was potential just below the surface, waiting to be mined, but it was never carried through. Despite being set nine years in the future, little happened in the second half until the final ten minutes.
A discussion in the first half between Johnson’s ex-wife, Marina Wheeler (Claire Lichie), and Sarah Vine (Emma Davies) about his infidelity suggested a promising new perspective. However, this was never carried further, and Wheeler was cast aside in the second act. Instead we were given Lichie as Johnson’s new girlfriend with a ridiculous, nasal American accent, reminiscent of Janice from Friends, as she also discovered his affairs.
I was annoyed by a statement in the programme by Maitland that the play doesn’t take sides. What is the point of writing a play about Boris Johnson if you’re not going to take a stance on him? Then again, I disagree with this statement because Johnson was portrayed in a negative light. He at times made racist and misogynistic comments and was depicted as a perverted serial adulterer. I suppose they were just presenting the impartial facts.
Again, the play was certainly packed with laugh-out-loud moment. My personal favourite was in 2029 when it was announced the BBC was now owned by Amazon. With the state of the industry at the moment, this is a not an unbelievable possibility.
Likewise, I never got bored or lost focus, but then again, the play did nothing in particular to engage me either. The action was rather static and no notable new ideas concerning the political climate were offered up.
Overall, it was a perfectly acceptable play, but in a world saturated with political commentary, ‘perfectly acceptable’ does not stand out. It felt like a narrative I have heard hundreds of times since 2016. All we can do is hope Johnson’s time as Prime Minister is as short as Maitland predicts.
The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson is playing at the Lowry until the 7th of March.