“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
“the two actors bring to life the banter of sisters, the directness of the council estate kid, the familiarity of workmates…”
For those unacquainted with this particular style of documentary theatre, what sounds like a distracting stage procedure to convey humdrum small talk turns out to be a very enlightening yet grounding discovery. Verbatim technique – performing the words of interviewees – was created by American actor, Anna Deavere Smith. Taking the genre a step further, Alecky Blythe, in 2003, set up her company Recorded Delivery and, rather than allowing actors to interpret the words, she relayed the transcripts live to them through earphones. They remained faithful to the original delivery of the lines, giving themselves over to the dialogue and retaining every stutter, cough and hesitation, their own egos lost in the effort of concentration. Preserving what journalists would normally discard, we find ourselves listening intently, using the intonation and pauses and half sentences as clues to their train of thought and connecting closely to their openness.
Alyce Louise-Potter began her own exploration of verbatim style in 2014, creating Spur of the Moment. After her one-woman show about mental health, her new production, ‘Class’, in collaboration with Kelsey Short, delves into the minds of the working class with a collection of entertaining and reflective conversations from south east London locals – coincidently, my own neck of the woods. Cleverly edited to illustrate a cross-section of society, the separate tales, reflections and opinions fit together in colourful harmony. Through these intertwining stories, we build an attachment to the various characters and an insight into their views on prejudice, stereotypes, accents, work, money, upbringing and values. On a practically bare set and with just a couple of changes of hat, the two actors bring to life the banter of sisters, the directness of the council estate kid, the familiarity of workmates… The community get on with their lives, coping with situations, proud of who they are and where they are from. There is no bitterness or resentment and no sentimentality. Xander Mars’ direction helps with a fluid yet unhurried pace which draws us into their reality.
This is a refreshing production with a positive message. The technical skill involved is hard to imagine, especially in the dialogues but the personalities portrayed by Alyce and Kelsey are so vivid and captivating that we are barely aware of the method. By its very nature, ‘Class’ is not for dramatic effect but is simply to tell the truth and bring to the theatre the voices of those who would not otherwise have the opportunity. We realise that what people say about everyday things is fascinating and through their honesty, it is also funny, touching and enriching.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Tristan Bates Theatre until 3rd August as part of Camden Fringe 2019