Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A two-part convoluted and, at times, very dark political comedy that comes horribly close to reality far too often.
Part 1 of Westminster Hour sees us drop in on Home Secretary Archie Cornwall as he celebrates the passing of new, tougher sentencing for convicted paedophiles, when a seemingly random shooting in South London leads a former lover to implicate him in a past abuse case. But is he too powerful to fall – and who will be silenced to save him? Part 2 fast forwards to the post-Brexit political landscape where dear old Nicola has stirred again and Cornwall, newly installed as Prime Minister, now needs to head off Indyref2 at the pass – by any means, and at any cost.
To describe the plot of this two hander, two part political drama as labyrinthine (I watched this in sequence but you can choose to watch the second instalment at a later date if the thought of two consecutive hours of political shenanigans is too much for your senses) would be to do it a disservice. Writer and co-star Andy Paterson has put so many twists and turns in this one that it rivals Brexit for complexity but never once yields to the temptation of using it for a cheap laugh.
Paterson’s oily Home Secretary (and subsequently Prime Minister) Archie Cornwall is the epitome of the persona many are increasingly regarding as the hallmark of the 21st century politician – duplicitous, self-serving, Machiavellian and focused exclusively on climbing to the top of the greasy political pole. And he’ll do anything in support of that objective and to protect any skeletons he might have inadvertently left lying around in a cupboard somewhere.
And, oh boy, are there skeletons. A veritable graveyard of bones, in fact, just waiting for the equally oily, mischievous, alternately alluring and alarming Fiona Myles (the consummate Rachel Ogilvy) to stumble upon, one at a time, all the better with which to lure the Right Honourable Gentleman in to the web of deceit she intends to weave for her ultimate gain, only to find herself ultimately out-manoeuvred in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Paterson’s script is, at times, horribly real. You sit there, listening to the barbs flying between the protagonists wondering just who knows what about whom, who believes in what, who is telling the truth, what actually is the truth and would anyone recognise it if they came within touching distance of it. You keep thinking that plot lines are beyond credibility and then you hark back to events and revelations over the past five years and realise that life is now imitating art, rather than the other way around.
The acting is, for the most part, pretty convincing. Ogilvy might consider replacing her clumpy heels for something that allowed her to run rings as effectively as she did around Paterson and I thought that plain white shirts were pretty much de rigeur for any politician these days but these are, at the end of the day, just details.
This type of theatre isn’t for everyone but will certainly appeal to those who like the rough and tumble of politics and all that comes with it. The plays succeed because of the acting and the overall plot which, whilst it veered towards implausibility in Part 2, may well subsequently prove to be nearer the truth than any of us present dared to think.