A Walk On Part
Chris Mullin, adapted by Michael Chaplin
Live Theatre/Soho Theatre co-production
Downstairs at Soho Theatre
This evening is not so much a play as a 2½ hour long extended political sketch. It follows the career of a Pooterish political nobody, Chris Mullin.
Starting in 1997, a decade after his election to Parliament, it traces the New Labour years from the perspective of an old-fashioned Hampstead Socialist, who never rose above the very bottom ministerial rung, which at least left him time to observe the main players enjoying 13 years of political power.
The script is based on Mullin's diaries, playing up any comic opportunity but treating much of the politics with tabloid lack of depth. This means that the show is a kind of latter-day stage equivalent to the Dear Bill letters that Richard Ingrams and John Wells made so popular in Private Eye in the 1980s.
This makes for a lightweight show that relies for its impact on the performance of John Hodgkinson as the bumbling Mullin. He gets great support from a quartet of actor/impressionists who between them play every major political figure of the era.
As one of his colleagues points out, political diaries are inevitably "subjective and self-serving" and these are no exception. As a result, Chris Mullin comes out of this evening very well, a good-natured, caring man with the kind of high ethical standards that now strike us as incongruous when witnessed in politicians.
This classic left-winger is the champion of the working man and even more so, immigrants in danger of repatriation to lands where they may be tortured or killed. He was also willing to stand up and be counted in voting against the invasion of Iraq, at considerable risk to his future ministerial career, which never recovered.
Since Mullin's constituency for 23 years was Sunderland South, this stage adaptation by Michael Chaplin opened most appropriately at Newcastle's Live Theatre under its Artistic Director, Max Roberts.
He does his best to cover the innate lack of theatricality of five people on a small stage in a basement bar animating a politician's diaries.
If you want to get a deep understanding of what made New Labour tick under Tony Blair, A Walk on Part will not provide much substance. However, for those that enjoy political sketch shows on TV or radio, it might provide a gently humorous night out.
Peter Lathan reviewed the original production at Live Theatre earler this year.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher