Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Brilliant slapstick – very witty – politically well informed – provokes serious thought
David Benson’s Boris is bumptious, rumbustious and brazen: just like the real life one: Boris states, almost before the stage lighting is fully up, that he wants to win the Festival Comedy Award: your Reviewer agrees. This is a wicked tour de force and ticks all the boxes that the very best of political satire should tick – firmly rooted in sophisticated political knowledge, every barb hits the bull’s eye; and every barb could be true – the character of the target is uncannily believable (this Boris, is so Boris) – cruel at times it may be, but it is always very, very funny.
Boris in real life always seems to be unprepared, always improvising ( he has to, to escape from the elephant traps of his own making into which he falls), and this is the quality of the script itself – or was it all improvised? Like the Boris we love/loathe, it captured his character of skilfully organised chaos: this very well constructed piece was written by Tom Crawshaw and directed by Yaz Al-Shaater – but was it a structured improvisation or fully scripted? Either way Benson’s performance struck brilliantly that machiavellian quality of Johnsonian improvisation: he handled a complex character with dexterity: whatever, it was a stunning performance. Benson is most ably supported by Joanna Bending, playing Boris’s exasperated ‘Director’, who skilfully changes the mood from farce to deadly serious attack at will and at these moments we question Theresa May’s wisdom in this surprising appointment ( some my think) as Foreign Secretary…but just as we’re on the point of considering his suitability, the sceptical Director and we ourselves are put in our place by an unexpected response from Boris in fluent French: a clever device which reassures us, unquestioningly, he is ‘the right man for job’.
One gaff after another is instantly, imaginatively explained away with an hilarious and preposterous excuse – and what is more he’s done it all his life! We’re taken back to his Eton days where Cameron Minor was privy to Boris’s decidedly dubious activities and tactics; and it is his tactics, which he employs when the going gets tough and seems, so far at least, infuriatingly, get him off the hook every time: and even sometimes even end in promotion of some sort!. Over and over again Boris invents an absurd fable to escape punishment, coated in charm, and delivered in a self-deprecating manner. His boyish tousle-haired technique also worked well in his seduction of women. The suggestion is that he had a clear formula on the lines of ‘nobody knows this, but Boris isn’t my name – it’s Alexander’: and then by underling this confidence (as a random member of the audience discovers when he whispers in the hapless female’s ear) ‘ keep it to yourself’ thus encouraging her to be a partner in his serial philandering.
While still at school it is suggested that the seeds of his ruthless ambition to rule the world and the tactic of his cover-up buffoonery, were sown. Quite a nasty boy but we laugh without restraint and love his breaking of all rules. Perhaps we still do: but how long will he get away with it on the world stage? The one we live in, it is suggested, he wants to rule.
We Brits are a funny lot aren’t we? One of our most favourite hobbies is to prick the bubble of the Great and Good. Super Intelligence and Ruthless Ambition, and boasting about it, may be admired in our former Colony across the Pond, but they don’t go down so well here: Boris frequently up-casts his eyes to the Gods on Mount Olympus, but he’d better not join the Deity up there and boast about it, it’s high in the sky and we love to see the Mighty fall! Our Boris is smart enough to realise, however, the great PR value of getting stuck on a cable car crossing the Thames. Donald Trumps trumpeting wouldn’t work here: but the tousle-haired, mischievous schoolboy look who undermines all criticism with his frequently iterated “Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa”, seems to work a treat.
There is some involuntary Audience Participation, and on the night your Reviewer ( who nearly died of a heart attack when the woman next to him was picked to play Wiff Waff with him ( ping pong to you!), in a very funny sequence which rose from wit, through farce to high-level slapstick.
Was this the real Boris or not? This wonderfully satirical evening was no bit of frippery: it threw real mud to stick. Benson’s performance of this hysterical piece should most definitely be seen in London again: it’s an ice-cold diamond and should not evaporate, like so much of the brilliance on the fringe, into ‘thin air’: what about seeing Susan Hill’s eternally popular classic nightmare in The Woman In Black first, and then going on to a late-night venue and experiencing the nightmare of Boris as World King!?