Tristan Bates Theatre
Reviewed – 9th August 2019
“a series of rambling vignettes of contemporary British political life that Shakespeare’s best lines cannot help”
Described as a “Shakespearean tragicomedy” in the promotional material, Boris Rex is about Boris Johnson’s rise to the highest office in the land. The script is liberally laced with quotes from Julius Caesar, Henry V, Richard III, Richard II and even the closing lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But even the magnificent language, often updated to suit our present times, cannot disguise the lack of a Shakespearean hero, or even an anti-hero, in this piece. Despite the energy that the performers bring to this script, Boris Rex, written by Charlie Dupré, is ultimately a series of rambling vignettes of contemporary British political life that Shakespeare’s best lines cannot help.
The four performers in Boris Rex, directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, do entertaining work with spot on imitations of Boris and his circle. Charlie Dupré’s arch portrayal of puppeteer in chief Jacob Rees-Mogg is particularly enjoyable, and Lydia Cashman more than holds her own playing Theresa May, Samantha Cameron and a pitch perfect Michael Gove. Henry Bauckham’s David Cameron is very recognisable, and if Bauckham’s Jeremy Corbyn seems insignificant compared to the other conspirators in Boris’ circle, that might be a fault of the character, rather than of the acting. Last, but certainly not least, Boris himself, played by Luke Theobald, is instantly recognisable under the stage lights, if not always audible or understandable. But all credit to Theobald for taking on the roles of both Boris and the ghost of Margaret Thatcher at the same time in the best scene of the evening, where quotes from Julius Caesar actually seem quite appropriate.
As is often the case when watching a drama based on a chronological approach, Boris the character is obscured behind the progression of events, and the audience is left trying to figure out whether there was ever a grand plan in mind, which might have served as the basis for a plot. Or is Boris Rex just a study of the eponymous character’s ruthless grasping of opportunities whenever and wherever they might appear? Even Time himself, who makes a brief appearance to pull things together, does not throw much light on the matter. But perhaps the point of Boris Rex is just to tell the all too familiar story of a man who reaches for the stars without having much reason to do so, other than to satisfy his own longings for distinction.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Paddy Gormley
Tristan Bates Theatre until 12th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Your Molotov Kisses
Reviewed – 10th August 2018
“Ott exposes a very contemporary problem about the distinction between the right to speak freely and the right to speak hatefully“
All stories need a protagonist, a hero if you like, and who better than the most ordinary and unassuming of people? Let’s say, just as an example, a middle-class couple, hardworking professionals who want to start a family. Characters the audience can like, recognise, even relate to. But what happens when the heroism is tainted, the façade falters, and the likeability vanishes? You get a sensitively written play that manages to capture the anxieties and prejudices of the modern day with light humour and unrelenting provocation. In short, you get Your Molotov Kisses.
Gustavo Ott’s (anti-)heroes are Daniel and Victoria, who are happily married until a package arrives from MI5 with Victoria’s name on it. Inside is a long lost backpack containing the secrets of a long forgotten past, in which the white, Christian Victoria was involved with Muslims – both socially and romantically, much to Daniel’s disgust. As their respective prejudices rise to the surface, it becomes clear that this is more than a domestic dispute. The real enemy, after all, cannot be them, but the insidious “others” who are intent on destroying their peace of mind.
A small makeshift living room, complete with a Fortnum and Mason hamper centre stage, does little to prepare the audience for the unrelenting hour of political commentary that follows. This play may not be for those who want a visual spectacle, but the minimalistic set works in harmony with the dialogue. The lighting is particularly effective: director Gianluca Lello has each character slip in and out of the spotlight, reinforcing the theme of concealment that interests Ott so much. Above all, it allows his precise writing and sharp political insights to speak for themselves. His dialogue is fast-paced, and the audience barely has time to catch their breath before the next question is raised. Luckily, Lydia Cashman and Matthew Bromwich’s strong, centred performances ensure that we remain invested. They imbue the dialogue with genuine and believable emotion whilst skilfully avoiding melodrama or broad comedy.
The gaze of this play is so far-reaching that it would be impossible to include all its insights here; it is difficult even to summarise. Perhaps, more than anything, it is a play about the right to hate. Ott exposes a very contemporary problem about the distinction between the right to speak freely and the right to speak hatefully. Victoria and Daniel do not distinguish between people. She cannot remember whether an old flame is Iranian, Syrian, or Saudi; he does not acknowledge outsiders, save to dismiss them as a waste of time. Both are scared by the prospect of their lives being altered by outsiders, but does this justify their hatred? Is this free speech, or hate speech? When the audience laughs at the witty dialogue, are they condemning or colluding with them?
All are necessary questions we must ask of ourselves and of others; Ott ensures that we do. This play may have premiered ten years ago, but it still feels fresh, timely and – above all – necessary.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Your Molotov Kisses
Etcetera Theatre until 16th August
as part of The Camden Fringe Festival 2018