Boris Johnson hasn’t had much luck over the last few weeks. His attempt to bully Parliament into ignoring the misdemeanours of a colleague backfired badly and, through a series of subsequent misjudgements, the Prime Minister seems to have offended not only the French and the Europeans but also many of his own backbenchers.
Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse and there were no U-turns left, the Omicron variant of coronavirus popped up in South Africa and, before he could even shut the air channels, had landed in our own country.
Time will tell as to whether his gesture towards protection will have any significant effect or merely lead to a series of further U-turns. Judging by his record to date, most readers will probably be fearful that Christmas is going to be cancelled at the last minute and, more relevantly, theatres may once again be closed or restricted.
This is terrible news for an industry that is already reeling after a series of knockout punches and may not be able to take any more. The idea that the regular illness-related closures that are currently attributed to the Delta variant will be exacerbated and multiplied by Omicron doesn’t bear thinking about.
Having been forced to study Prime Minister Johnson and before that Mayor Johnson and before that journalist Johnson, it is possible to build up some kind of an understanding of his thought processes. Indeed, if you then tack on the thoughts of Chairman Trump, his ultimate role model, one can predict what does and does not fire a man who could easily have been invented by Shakespeare, though whether as a comic character or a tragic antihero is open to debate.
Even though he seems to take more time off than any previous Prime Minister, Mr Johnson has rarely been sighted at the theatre since he took office. Our leader must therefore have been aggrieved to find that, after making what was supposed to be a below the radar visit to the Almeida to enjoy Yaël Farber’s stunning new version of Macbeth, he was ridiculed in the media for failure to wear a mask.
This might seem like a minor offence until you discover that coronavirus was raging through the Houses of Parliament at the time, quite possibly as a direct result of the fact that, until very recently, over half of the regulars refused to wear masks, primarily to make a Trumpian political statement.
In the ensuing week, various large theatres have very wisely made mask wearing compulsory again. One wonders whether the PM will deign to follow the new rules if asked to do so at the RSC or National? Then again, he may be too busy attending Christmas parties at Number 10.
The saddest part of this story is that Johnson was almost certainly conned by his wife. Either that or she was so busy looking after the children and choosing new furnishings and clothing that Mrs Johnson missed the broadest hint possible as to hubby’s theatrical tastes, when he begged to be allowed to see Peppa Pig: Best Day Ever with all the subtlety of a spoilt five-year-old. It will have served the lady right if her overgrown baby has thrown tantrums ever since.
She might also have failed to detect the irony of taking our latter-day Macbeth to see a vision of himself (and her) in gory action. After all, this tragedy features man with a pushy wife who would be King, happy to finish off opponents in their sleep, stab friends in the back and make enemies in the knowledge that he is immortal.
Johnson might actually be in more danger even than Macbeth, since nowadays, being told that he will never be usurped since “none of woman born shall harm [Johnson]” might make him bold in the face of a challenge from Rishi Sunak but will hardly eliminate the ambitious, avaricious Liz Truss from the contest.
To be fair, Boris Johnson might actually quite appreciate a comparison with Macbeth, when other Shakespeare lovers could seek closer parallels with Angelo or even the Duke from Measure for Measure, Falstaff on a bad day or, dare one suggest it (and M. Macron allegedly did almost exactly that), the Fool in King Lear, although that is unfair, since the latter has strong self-knowledge and a good sense of humour.