DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson – Northern Stage, Newcastle

Reviewer: Chris Collett

Writer: Jonathan Maitland

Director: Dugald Bruce-Lockheart

Jonathan Maitland’s The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson offers a chilling portrait of naked ambition unfettered by integrity, honesty or political conviction. It charts the prime minister’s rise and imagined fall, presenting the politician as a man completely consumed by his own ego.

Will Barton is utterly convincing as Boris. Padded out for extra girth and with his unruly mop of hair dyed blond, the physical resemblance is quite close. But what really transforms him is his ability to mimic the rhythms of Boris’s speech and emphatic hand gestures. In public he radiates Boris’s trademark confidence and charisma, while behind closed doors he sulks like a petulant child or agonises over the best route to power.

The first act centres on the dinner party in February 2016 where Boris decides his best chance at gaining the premiership is to throw his considerable weight behind the campaign to leave the EU. Present are Boris’s wife Marina Wheeler, the snake-like Gove, and name-dropping Russia media tycoon Evgeny Lebedev. Boris is also joined by Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Tony Blair who debate whether he should back leave or remain. Tim Wallers’ Blair is particularly good fun – a sweaty concoction of plastic smiles, faux matey-ness and desperation.      

While the first half is based on real-life events, the second half is wish-fulfilment fantasy. It’s post-Brexit Britain in 2029 and Boris is wandering in the political wilderness after his premiership was cut short by scandal. But the possibility of a return to power comes after the current prime minister faces a vote of no confidence.  The only catch is that he has to campaign to re-join the EU. With any other politician the notion of such a U-turn would be ridiculous but with Boris it’s horrifyingly plausible. As Boris in real life is a self-created caricature, Maitland is able to seamlessly blend fact, fantasy and satire.

If the play has a weakness, it’s that it doesn’t quite know how to end and the final scene- crashing moments are a bit clichéd. Nevertheless, this is a funny and politically astute piece of theatre.

Runs until 22nd February

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