Considering how much is at stake in 2017, for the first time in my life I find myself struggling to be excited by an election. It’s interesting, in much the same way that it’s hard to resist a brawl in a pub car park, as long as you’re a safe distance away. I’m all for anti-heroes, but every character in this drama is utterly unlikeable.
So let’s review it as theatre.
It’s not always a good idea for the playwright also to be an actor, but this is Theresa May’s script, and she’s written herself the leading role. I’ve sympathy for women of a certain age looking for meaty parts, but honestly, who wouldn’t have preferred Helen Mirren?
May, the writer, is no Will Shakespeare. Nuances of character, fatal flaws in the stuff of greatness, psychological depth and social sympathy are exactly the sort of fluff May despises. Her heroine is a glamorous woman, the sort who gets photographed by Annie Leibovitz for American Vogue, yet she’s also able to don jeans and Barbour jacket for a trot around some ghastly northern place to show she’s a ‘woman of the people’. Preferably white people (casting, please note?). The villain? That’s more complicated.
A conventional plot might see one adversary as sufficient, but not May. She’s lined up a veritable chorus line of baddies. There are the 27 foreigners, for starters. German, French, Belgian…right down to the Maltese and the Croatians. But it’s OK – they’re all white.
Someone told her you need a bit of comedy, so she’s written a role for Wilfrid Brambell as Leader of the Opposition. Brambell brought great pathos to his portrayal of Steptoe Senior, and will surely do so again in this role, as the lovelorn Jeremy Corbyn. The scene where he sadly brews a cup of elderflower infusion in his allotment shed, photographs of May torn from Vanity Fair pinned to the wall might have been moving, had it not been followed by a bus-load of Tory interns with triple-barrelled names trashing his brassicas. May’s script has little space for sentiment.
Indeed, the dramatic high point of May’s drama is The Expulsion of the Migrants (note to casting – diverse extras just for this scene, please). As the huddled masses – vegetable pickers, scientists, nurses, care home workers – trudge across the stage towards the door marked ‘Brexit’, the PM character will permit herself a chilling ghost of a smile and a small G&T.
There’s a touch of ‘Les Mis’ about the finale, in which every single seat in the House of Commons is won by a Tory. It will be a triumph (its says in the stage directions).
So. Will this election stick to May’s bombastic, joyless, inhumane script? Or might the director, or the other actors, or even the audience, decide to do a rewrite?
That’s about the only note of hope in this Election of Doom. That somehow, against the odds, we tear up the script, and do something brave and exciting.
It’s up to us.