Boris World King
Trafalgar Studio 2
From 19 April 2016 to 14 May 2016
Review by Mary Mazzilli
A show that puts Boris the Maverick into the limelight—really? As if Boris has not received enough exposure already!
One loves to hate Boris and one should fear that a production, at this moment, about the court jester of British politics that becomes king might help Boris’s cause even further. But Crawshaw’s writing and Yaz Al-Shaater's production cannot be more poignant, striking many chords of truth, more than both his supporters and unremitting critics would like to admit to.
Politics aside, Boris the King is a fine satire: partial stand-up, partial improvised participatory theatre that does not disappoint.
After a nervy start, David Benson swiftly strikes with casual yet biting punches. Flexible enough to juggle between the self-referential and the self-deprecating, David Benson, often breaking the fourth wall and talking straight to the audience, is a Boris aware of his own foolishness.
There is something clever about imagining a Boris that tries to put on his own West End show, which is ultimately another act of self-ridicule (or rather an act of self-promotion?). Scheming to avoid another of his latest scandals, aided by his frustrated adviser, finely played by Alice McCarthy, this Boris is constantly in and out of his own character, between the charming fool buffoon and the power-hungry maverick.
This way, the show keeps to biographical exploration and the omniscient God-like narrator, played as voice-over by Simon Callow, leads the characters and the show back on the biographical track.
In a strange twist of events, all is revealed: the reason of Johnson’s inexplicable rise to power, in spite of the rowdy scandals, the continuous political mishaps and the inappropriate comments.
Donald Trump and Frank Underwood come to mind. Boris’s rise cannot be stopped, not even by the man himself, who in a rare moment of self-reflection gives a hint that this is not what he wanted all along.
There is some sweet sympathy in this portrayal of the man, a buffoon who can't even walk straight—or at least he wants us to believe so. In the attempt, perhaps, to soften the critical edge and present a balanced representation, this show seems to suggest that maybe we are all at fault here because we are all prone to like eccentric renegades, unscrupulous clowns, and we have become too forgiving and complacent, or merely desensitized, towards our own politicians’ flaws and vices.
A darker side and an infinite thirst for power creep in here and there as the show risks to give a too-sympathetic view of the man. At times, it is a kind of satire that is too cynical of itself and cannot take itself too seriously, as it can neither ridicule nor glorify. A bit too often, laughs are result of a restrained comedic self-awareness.
The question remains, also, on whether this show translates well outside the Edinburgh Fringe circle or the fringe circle altogether. Trafalgar Studio 2 does not feel miles away from those crammed venues, especially with the staging being left very casually bare and when cheap props still remind us that this could just be another stand-up show, ready to tour elsewhere.
This does not diminish, though, David Benson’s skilful performance, a true master of the genre. It is also commendable that the creators have created a holistic theatrical experience, which does not resort only to cheap jokes and easy caricatures, but aims to more complex characterizations.