Edinburgh Fringe 2013
There’s something at once disturbing but captivating about The Confessions of Gordon Brown. As the audience enters you have the zealous supporter handing out Gordon Brown badges and giving a cringe-inducing warm-up for the ‘Leader.’ The whole scene is so David Brent-esque and vaudeville that it might just be a real political event.
Set before a 6am staff meeting, Confessions is an hour-long insight into the mind of Brown as he reflects on what it takes to be prime minister, his place in history and his vision for a better Britain.
Part Malcolm Tucker diatribe, part angsty-teenage introspection, Kevin Toolis’ script is not shy in playing with the notion that in the public mind Brown has passed from incompetent, to persona non grata, to tragic figure caught in the shadow of a dilettante and charlatan.
With that comes a disappointment that the script is putatively populist. It is littered with ‘confessions’ that are superficial; lacking the in-depth research that is the backbone of comparable one man political shows at this year’s Fringe.
The vignettes are ripe but clichéd and centered on a two-dimensional understanding of Brown himself. The rants, the views and even the audience interaction all feel like missed opportunities. It’s a genuine shame that it is literally the final minutes that are used to allude to Brown’s entrenched religious background, his parental relationships and, most importantly, the months locked in darkness hoping his eye sight survived.
The production ultimately hinges then on the wonderful Ian Grieve understanding and translating the good intent of Tollis’ script. His performance beautifully captures the electricity and madness of a classically tragic leader extolling his virtues in the death throes of his reign. Pitch perfect, the script feels like a stream of consciousness as Grieve brings verisimilitude to the mawkishness and rage of a jilted Prime Minister. Accolades should rightly be poured on the actor who has mastered the physical fettle and mannerisms of Brown better than anyone in recent memory.
Production has done well to replicate the infamous and physiologically revealing photos of Brown, sitting at his desk, battered laptop and phone in front, trying to micromanage the country minute by minute as the clock ticks overhead. Lighting is particularly well used as Brown shifts in and out of doing ‘the vision thing.’
As a tease Brown asks the audience to name five members of Blair’s first 1997 Cabinet. No one can. For the show that dangerously opts to declare it is completely sold out at the Fringe, this seems ironically indicative of its success, but also its failure: in the end, it is the parody, and not the facts, that we enjoy.
Overall there is style but little substance. The script is entertaining and the show enjoyable, but it is lacking in the true detail and controversy that would cement this show as a classic. This is a shame, for Grieve more than provides the talent to explore the still elusive reasons why this man crashed as PM – tales I hazard a guess would even make Macbeth raise an eyebrow.