The Last Temptation Of Boris Johnson
Glynis Henderson Productions in association with Park Theatre
Park Theatre 200
Jonathan Maitland has written some impressive plays about public figures that combine journalistic research with humour and some perceptive observations.
His latest play takes us from Boris Johnson’s uncertainties of 2016 about whether he should support a leave or remain position on the EU to his 2029 attempt to become leader of the Tory Party on a platform of rejoining the EU.
On route, he has dinner with Michael Gove (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and the owner of the Standard Evgeny Lebedev (Tim Wallers), and imagines he is visited by Thatcher (Steve Nallon), Blair (Tim Wallers) and Churchill (Arabella Weir).
The mood is light, the character of Boris (Will Barton) is depicted as witty, intelligent and amiable. It’s the affectionate version of Boris, the Falstaff of public life, a harmless opportunist, the lovable rogue.
The play begins with him preparing for a television interview by messing up his hair and making his appearance untidy. That’s the public persona and we never get beneath it. As a journalist preparing an article on Boris for a national magazine observed to me afterwards, “where is the dangerous side, the side that really causes problems?”
If this rosy lack of depth will frustrate, the strained comedy will be tiring. There are a few witty barbs, mainly from Boris, but too many of the jokes are familiar, too many keep being repeated. Evgeny Lebedev arrives name-dropping and parading his influence with the stars. We laughed the first few times he did this but eventually grew weary of the two-note caricature.
For no obvious reason, the play has Thatcher, Blair and Churchill pop round for a chat with Boris at regular intervals. Thatcher is simply dotty, claiming she won the battle of Waterloo. Blair is all “hi guys” and the hand of history on his shoulder. Churchill makes racist comments about India and claims he could have been the President of the United States of Europe.
But the biggest flaw in this very slight play is the lack of any dramatic tension. Whether Boris is doing a Laurel and Hardy routine with Michael Gove or he is stumbling amiably before the television cameras, there is nothing at stake. It's like watching an old sketch from Spitting Image extended to 130 minutes without any jokes that really work.