Tony’s Last Tape
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company
The political campaigner Tony Benn is the subject of Andy Barratt’s engaging play Tony’s Last Tape. Benn played an important role in helping to rally activists of the political left. He also wrote and published historically valuable diaries. Barratt takes the writing of these diaries as a setting for us to see something of the political and personal character of Benn.
The show opens on an empty study with the rain falling outside. The actor Paul Bretherton arrives on stage as a frail Benn, shaking slightly and carrying a huge mug of tea. He turns on a tape and in a conversational tone reflects on his life and politics. As he does this, we no longer think of the age and the frailty.
He speaks warmly of the influence of his wife Caroline and the things they did together. He recalls how he and his brother Mike, who died in the Second World War, had vowed to make Britain a better place. It was a vow he never forgot. Occasionally, as he spoke passionately about an issue, we were reminded why so many people went to his meetings.
Bretherton’s Benn is warm and generous but he does allow himself to admit that when Blair got up at Labour Conference you felt as though a cold hand gripped your chest.
There is a good deal of humour in the play. Even when Benn is changing a light bulb by standing precariously on his desk which is cluttered with books and tapes, he jokes that if as a result he is found dead, it will be said that he tripped over his own words.
This is a fine enjoyable play about someone who gave so much of his life to the cause of creating a more compassionate society.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna