FEED THE BEAST
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 21st April, 2015
Imagine if the Prime Minister was a man of principle. Imagine if he actually felt driven to serve the country. Imagine if he took a stand against the press – rather than ‘getting into bed’ or ‘going horse-riding’ with them.
Such a PM is Michael Goodlad, who enters into office midway through a parliament. Our initial reaction is not favourable. He is an abrasive, volatile sort and he doesn’t care if people don’t like him. He has a job to do. As Goodlad, Gerald Kyd wins us over by force of his personality. We want him to succeed. By the interval, I am ready to vote for him and his raft of social reforms. Kyd gives us a superb portrait of a man in high office whose ideals are tested and eroded.
Goodlad’s approach is to starve the press (aka the beast of the title) but when personal stories concerning his wife and his troubled teenaged daughter are about to surface, he learns how to manipulate what stories get leaked and when – mainly through the machinations of blunt press officer Scott, who is a nasty piece of work but not without an ethical code of his own. Shaun Mason is impressively strong as this unpleasant but pragmatic character and there are some electrifying outbursts of passion from both men.
Indeed there is a lot of passion and conviction pouring off the stage – the excellent Kacey Ainsworth as Sally, for example. The characters are not merely mouthpieces for conflicting points of view. Steve Thompson’s script is not only timely but intelligent and provocative, and also rather funny. There is something televisual in the writing too, in the way that scenes end abruptly. Transitions are swift and slick, covered by loud, insistent music and flashing images that remind me of title sequences to current affairs programmes. And the play does feel very current even though it boils down to an old-fashioned tragedy about an important man brought down by a flaw in his character. Once Goodlad chips away at his principles there is only one way to go. In this case it’s toward the exit rather than a messy death!
Peter Rowe directs an effective ensemble although some of the doubling of roles could be more clearly differentiated; there are times when I’m not sure which character an actor has come on as.
All in all though it’s an engaging evening, a serious comedy that examines the relationship between politics and the media, and if you come away dissatisfied it’s not with the play, it’s with the real world. Why does the press (i.e. one foreign billionaire) have so much power to shape policy? And why, oh why, is there no one of the calibre of Michael Goodlad standing in the upcoming general election?