“Neither Etonian, nor Fettesian, he”
Written & directed by Kevin Toolis.
Mary Rivers Productions inadvertently demonstrates canny timing in bringing The Confessions of Gordon Brown back to Edinburgh after its month long Fringe run at the Pleasance last year. On Monday Mr Brown was speaking in Tollcross, Glasgow, and even The Guardian reported that ‘the TV pictures looked terrible. Brown was pacing up and down within a small space, like a bear trapped in a cage. And his arms were flapping all over the place’. Apparently focus groups always see Mr Brown as a bear in a Volvo.
That’s seriously unfair, isn’t it? The former prime minister spoke well in St Joseph’s Hall, very well in fact; he had substance and that gravitas thing; and yet, and yet, image can still be all. At least, that is the common view mercilessly examined in Kevin Toolis’ play. Mr Brown may not be bald, he stands foursquare and tall enough, but smooth he ain’t. Neither Etonian, nor Fettesian, he; thank the (Presbyterian) Lord, you might add.
Billy Hartman is Gordon Brown and does not really need the brief warm-up that precedes his entry as ‘the Leader’. It is perturbing to be urged to clap with enthusiasm, comrades, for a trashed political act that is synonymous with tragicomedy.
Hartman’s First Lord of the Treasury – end June 2007 to end May 2010 – is doleful. He is beyond welfare. The man stands there ill at ease, with just his mirrored image for company, heartsore. He would be composed, steadfast, but if you can have sober and lucid intemperance, here it is. His time in No.10, after Tony’s tenure, is a fagend and the clock on the wall stays at 5.40pm.
The political intelligence is unremitting. More diatribe than expiation, the Confessions put hope and promise(s) up against Realpolitik and you learn what happens to grounded principle when – nice image – Northern Rock turns to northern diarrhoea.
It is long at 90 plus minutes but the insistent recall of contemporary history is compelling. Mention of Mr Blair, usurper and ‘snivelling runt’, seems satisfying these days. Robin Cook, John Smith, Alex Salmond, pass momentarily but what stays is the pitiless account of unfeeling, falsifying, democratic process. Spotlit occasions of electoral victory and the promise of change snap out and the scene returns to Downing Street, where power is wretched. It gets more personal and darker at the close.
Scenes from a thrawn and cyncial biopic or a more sympathetic creation? You might wonder at the comparison with Napoleon on St. Helena but otherwise Hartman’s absorbing performance is easily good enough, for me at least, to think that this Right Honourable Gordon Brown MP is a better man for having confessed.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 11 March)
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