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2nd May 1997

Jack Thorne
nabokov and the Bush Theatre in association with Watford Palace Theatre and Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Bush Theatre
(2009)

As New Labour prepares to check out, Jack Thorne takes us back twelve years to the night when a hope-filled Tony Blair brushed aside almost two decades of Conservative power.

Under the direction of Nabokov's George Perrin, Thorne divides 90 minutes between three pairings symbolising different stages of life and political affiliations.

Each scene takes place in a bedroom, observed by audience members on either side of a narrow traverse. With dry ice and Philip Gladwell's colourful lighting, Hannah Clark's simple design is easy on the eye and keeps everyone close to the action, sometimes embarrassingly so.

Robert, played by Geoffrey Beevers, is a Tory Minister who never quite made it to the Cabinet. We meet him awaiting the political equivalent of execution as, like Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo, his constituents end a career that never quite lived up to the high ambitions.

If the ageing and symbolically crippled Geoffrey is surprisingly sanguine, Linda Broughton, playing the wife who has sacrificed all to her husband's career, shows the bitterness. She does however continue to support a man who, to post-feminist eyes, has blighted her life, ruthlessly turning an intelligent woman into a political skivvy.

This first leg is distinguished by fine acting from a pair who manage to derive great sympathy for naturally unsympathetic characters as they face up to the loss of all that has defined their lives.

The Lib Dems are represented by Hugh Skinner's boring Ian, a junior functionary who cannot believe his luck in pulling at an election night celebration of party mediocrity.

His conquest is the gorgeous, randy Sarah, played with great wit and conviction by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She may be drunk but soon realises that she has picked up the wrong man.

Their sexual and political jousts get close to hilarious, as the voracious vamp attempts to excite a political eunuch in what eventually turns into a no-night stand that says so much about the party that has aspired and failed to deliver at any election since Lloyd George knew our Great Great Great Grandfathers.

The last coupling is between a duo of over-excited A Level students who were not even born when Labour was previously in power. Their bright but uncertain future can be seen to have parallels with that of the party which on 2nd. May 1997 was on the crest of a wave that lasted for almost ten years.

The jubilation and adrenalin are tempered by boyish fumblings as bright Jake (James Barrett) flirts with but almost innocently tantalises the dog-like devotion of Jamie Samuel's Will, a boy who wants to express love but cannot find the words or confidence to utter them.

As a political portrait of an era, 2nd. May 1997 may be a little lightweight but where it scores is in portraying the contrasting couples and their tricky relationships in a way that is credible and combines humour with a tinge of sadness.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher