Readers can hardly have failed to notice that in recent weeks the news headlines have been dominated by stories about one colourful character.
Various writers including this critic have drawn parallels between the career of Boris Johnson and a number of central figures in plays penned by William Shakespeare. To be fair, you could lift almost identical lines that would fit either the erstwhile President of the United States of America and our own current leader.
Some have suggested that BJ has many of the ruthless characteristics of Richard III, happy to dispose of anyone and everyone on his way to the throne and, once there, ditch allies as willingly as enemies and sacrifice the good of the citizenry for his own ends. An alternative reading is to compare Mr and Mrs Johnson with the Macbeths, though at times Mr J appears to have the ruthless ambition but not the drive of the Shakespearean king. Inevitably, Julius Caesar will come to the fore if and when the day comes that Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss or possibly 54 good (wo)men and true finally decide that enough is enough.
Personally, after giving the subject considerable consideration, Don John from Much Ado about Nothing might have as good a claim as any to be an inspiration for a character who should have remained in fiction, or at least on the backbenches, rather than plaguing a nation that was already on its knees before the real plague came along.
Marlowe might feel short-changed if there was no suggestion that our leader might have followed the path of Dr Faustus, which could explain his otherwise inexplicable popularity with the masses.
Restricting one’s focus to Shakespeare’s age is to miss many more recent parallels. Oscar Wilde might feel greatly offended that, to date, few if any writers have pointed out that Boris Johnson could easily have been one of his own inventions, while Harley Granville Barker may also have wished to throw his hat into the ring. Ironically, given that his plays are generally light comedies, Noël Coward’s entitled and privileged upper-class hedonists also have a much in common with the PM.
All of these playwrights have written comedies of manners, bustling with lavish parties, about bad behaviour on the part of wealthy men who can keep their hands off neither women nor power, with the obvious risk that random children might be the cause of scandal.
They would also have been well able to understand the attractions of inordinately expensive wallpaper and soft furnishings and recognised like Shakespeare that, as a general rule, those who stab others in the back on the way to the top will suffer a similar fate in their own good time.
Getting rather more recent, two shows from half a century ago both of which coincidentally starred Michael Crawford may well immediately have sprung into readers’ minds.
No Sex Please We’re British could have been specifically written to address one of our hero’s flaws, while the musical adaptation of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s Billy Liar is equally appropriate for another. Even better, the show’s expurgated title Billy would be acceptable to the speaker of the House of Commons.
Having looked at the past, it is perhaps inevitable that, while noting a number of small-scale plays are beginning to bubble up with Johnsonian figures at their centre, the future looks bright for anyone who enjoys a good satire.
Alan Ayckbourn knows a thing or two about embarrassing parties of the boozy rather than political variety, not to mention marital problems that might seem uncomfortably familiar to the big man.
One imagines that James Graham is beavering away behind-the-scenes writing at least one and quite probably a handful of epic plays poking fun at today’s political elite from unusual angles, possibly the hidden depths of the 1922 committee or maybe a group of vegetarian porkpie Conservatives of the 2019 grand.
He may need to get his skates on, since it would be depressing to imagine that Richard Bean is not already negotiating with Sir Nicholas Hytner to plan the staging of a wicked satire about the fall of the house of Johnson, which will undoubtedly be incredibly funny, gratuitously cruel if you happen to be a member of the current cabinet and ready for production on the day that the axe finally falls.
An alternative treatment is likely to be offered by Sir David Hare, whose use of verbatim theatre to explore controversial issues always gets to the essence of what he regards as disastrous political misjudgement.
Musical lovers might expect to enjoy a confrontational revival of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels highlighting the love-hate relationship between what might by then be the former prime minister and his hitherto closest aide, Dominic Cummings.
It would be unfair to neglect those who could tell the tale from the inside. On that basis, perhaps a novelist who is never underrated (at least by herself) might decide to turn her hand to the stage. After all BJ’s most vocal cheerleader, Nadine Dories, could well be not only unemployed but unemployable before the ink on this article has had a chance to dry.