Writer: Chris Mullin, adapted for the stage by Michael Chaplin
Director: Max Roberts
Reviewer: Christopher Owen
Adapted from the diaries of former MP Chris Mullin, A Walk On Part transfers from the Soho Theatre to the West End’s Arts Theatre, with new cast members Andi Osho, and Joe Caffrey joining returning cast members Hywel Morgan, Tracey Gilman and John Hodgkinson who stars as Mullin himself. All are excellent, not only to remember which part they are playing at which time (the ensemble play over 100 different characters between them), but to do so without passing out in the immense heat inside the Arts Theatre auditorium.
That said, the play is actually simply constructed considering the amount of characters it contains. Mullin (mesmerizingly performed by Hodgkinson) narrates his thoughts while the endlessly energetic ensemble provide the necessary faces (and voices) of the last 15 years of British politics. From the beginnings of New Labour’s rise to their loss of power at the last general election, Mullin provides an inside view to the whole journey, giving a taste of what life is really like, working in the UK government.
We see the relaxed exterior of a man who at times is content with his apparent lack of responsibility in the House of Commons, but becomes challenged when granted a higher position, we see just how politics can make someone grow and change as a person, when confronted with different situations. A particularly poignant moment is when Mullin is taking a surgery with his local constituents and is approached by a young Ukrainian family seeking asylum. This obviously deeply affected Mullin as he tries hard to help them stay in the country and eventually fails. But from then on, his persona changed, for the better. We see him stand up for his views, and not let what he stands for go by without trying his hardest to make his point heard. Even if this at times means voting against his party’s leader who he is expected to support, bringing unknown repercussions to his career.
The years go by and so do the figures we know so well, and so infamously. All the big names are portrayed; Straw, Prescott, Murdoch, Blair (a particular highlight), Campbell, Cook, Brown and even Paxman gets five seconds in the limelight (to the audience’s audible delight). All impersonations are done in a way that is never too much of a caricature, but still with enough humour and excellent comedic timing to provide a positive antidote to the seriousness of the topics that were being discussed at that time in British history.
You never feel you are having one man’s views on politics pushed onto you, yet that you are observing one man’s frustration at others incompetence to act as they should have at a time when the country needed them most. A Walk On Part is a harsh, entertaining, and often, surprisingly moving account of one man’s life behind the closed doors of the British political system. It is a gem of the London theatrical scene, and certainly one not to miss if you have any interest in finding out what really happens behind the Whitehall walls. At a time when the walls are constantly being brought down brick by brick, we can only expect more performances and diaries like this to surface. If they are all performed with such gusto and intelligence as A Walk On Part, this will be no bad thing.