Coalition

Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
The Spontaneity Shop and The Pleasance Theatre Trust
Pleasance Theatre

Phil Jupitus as Sir Francis Whitford and Thom Tuck as Matt Cooper Credit: Idil Sukan
Alistair Barrie as Geoffrey Webb Credit: Idil Sukan
Phil Mulryne as Eddie Frackowiak and John Dorney as Tim Fowler Credit: Idil Sukan
Jo Caulfield as Angela Hornby Credit: Idil Sukan
Jessica Regan as Claudia Hood Credit: Idil Sukan

Islington Labour councillor Khan and impro director Salinsky who wrote this call it a “comedy play”, an interesting description. Once a comedy would have been a play anyway, now comedy is also used to describe performance by a comic. As director, Salinsky seems to be trying to bridge both genres.

When seen last year on the Edinburgh Fringe, Coalition gained some enthusiastic reviews but the Fringe shows these days include a high proportion of “comedy” and the plaudits were perhaps more for the comic performers than the play.

It is set a couple of years in the future with the nation still run by a Conservative / Lib Dem coalition and centres on the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal leader Matt Cooper. It could be seen as a disturbing prediction of what may be in store as the Tories manipulate the situation to their advantage, but this isn’t Cameron and Clegg. Nor is it political satire. It is a light-hearted picture of an incompetent fool getting into ever more of a mess.

A popularity poll shows the public matching the Rt Hon Matthew Cooper’s personality with that of a yellow amoeba and Thom Tuck plays him as a hyperactive idiot who entirely ignores the advice that he is given. You don’t believe in him as a DPM for a minute but it’s a bravura performance that had some of the audience cackling with laughter, especially at the point when he is handling three telephone conversations at the same time, statements to each contradicting what he says to the others, only to discover the three are together and well aware of his duplicity.

Phil Mulryne as a Junior Treasury Minister and John Dorney as an incompetent PR consultant and a neurotic alcohol dependent bye-election candidate match his zany style but the rest of the cast could be in a different production. Their comic timing is just as precise but their characters are believable people.

Alistair Barrie as Energy Secretary Geoffrey Webb, refusing to budge from an anti-nuclear energy policy, is an ideologically constant voice in the midst of all the chicanery. Jo Caulfield is entirely convincing as a smooth and organised Chief Whip making her own political future and Jessica Regan plays Cooper’s Special Advisor, a canny Irish woman who is treated more like a secretary and whose wise counsel is always ignored.

Phil Jupitus drifts in and out of everyone’s offices like some rotund malignant ghost, always half through a drink or a snack. His Sir Francis Whitford may be a Minister without Portfolio but he seems more like a spy for Gyuri Sarossy’s elegantly suave Richard Macintosh, an Eden-like PM of the Conservative old school. It is in the latter scenes when Whitford and Macintosh are cleverly cooking Cooper’s political goose that the play takes on some real bite.

The production is simply and effectively mounted with no designer credited, a desk and a couple of smart leather chairs become all the environments, but it is a very thin script that relies on cavorting caricature to get laughs. It seems aimed at an audience out for a drink and a chortle rather than attempting to excoriate real political pretences.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton