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A CurtainUp London London Review
2nd May 1997

You're what the party is all about frankly. You're the reason I'm pleased Dad couldn't afford to send me to private school.— Jake
2nd May 1997
Hugh Skinner as Ian and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Sarah
(Photo: Graham Michael)
Set on the evening of the British election day in 1997 when the Conservative party lost after being continuously in power for 18 years, Jack Thorne's 2nd May 1997 is a play in three acts. Each act is based within a particular political party with a different age group reflecting the political preferences of the day; so the outgoing Tories are near retirement, the Liberals are twenty-somethings willing to get into to bed with whomsoever it suits and the Socialists are still at school and full of hope for the future having, only ever lived under the Conservative government which came to power in May 1979, 18 years before.

The structure of 2nd May 1997 is fascinating. The first act set in their bedroom of Robert (Geoffrey Beevers) a middle of the road older Tory Member of Parliament about to lose his job. He knows he hasn't flown high enough to be elevated to the peerage, the outcome for the more prominent Cabinet ministers, eight of whom who will lose their parliamentary seat on this day. He isn't just a member of a dying regime, he himself also has health problems. His nervous wife Maria (Linda Broughton) is part of the Tory Faithful, the wives who toil loyally on behalf of the party and she feels aggrieved for herself as well as for her husband. What is interesting is the lack of sympathy we feel for the depressing predicament of this unprepossessing architect of bills on pensions and his lacklustre, but dutiful wife.

The second act switches to the bedroom of one of Ian (Hugh Skinner), the Liberal Democrat, who has arrived home from a celebration with the very drunk Sarah, a mesmerising performance from Phoebe Waller-Bridge. While Ian looks on confused party gatecrasher Sarah confesses that she has mistakenly come home with him ("wrong man, at the wrong time"). She provocatively performs a strip tease for the shy party worker who isn't sure whether to believe his luck or to resist her advances. As Sarah bares her breast onstage, we hear of her terrible vulnerability and probable abuse. Later they watch the television with the shattering news of the election: the Conservative Party of Michael Portillo, then tipped as a future leader, losing his relatively safe Conservative seat in Enfield Southgate to the Labour Party candidate. Like mild mannered Ian in the bedroom, the Liberals seem unlikely to be a real political power.

The final act is about two seventeen year old schoolboys who have watched the televised election counts and shared a bed platonically— at least in deed, if not by desire on the part of one of them. Jake (James Barrett) has his place at Cambridge University but Will (Jamie Samuel) is going to the redbrick University of Leeds. While Jake is elated with the election victory and now concerned with learning the names of the new Labour Cabinet for his Politics class, Will is sexually attracted to Jake and wishing that they could be going to university together. The metaphor here is harder to decipher but I think this is Jack Thorne's way of telling us that New Labour under Tony Blair will leave its traditional roots of Old Labour behind as Jake exposes his political ambition and at the same time crushing Will's romantic ambition. We get an inkling here how things will turn out and what priorities will be for the winning Labour victors.

The performances that director George Perrin has elicited from his cast are pitch perfect. The opportunity that Jack Thorne has given people to reflect on the twelve and a half years of New Labour government is timely as this government may too be about to be replaced at the forthcoming election. He has juxtaposed political and personal priorities, summarised glibly as elections and erections. 2nd May 1997 is an interesting political play with young actors giving such very promising performances that every casting director would be foolish not to see.

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2nd May 1997
Written by Jack Thorne
Directed by George Perrin

With: James Barrett, Geoffrey Beevers, Linda Broughton, Jamie Samuel, Hugh Skinner, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Design: Hannah Clarke
Lighting: Philip Gladwell
Running time: One and a half hours with no interval
Box Office: 020 7610 4224
Booking to 10th October 2009 and then on tour to
20th — 21st Oct Watford Palace Theatre
22nd — 24th Oct The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
27th — 31st Oct The Royal Exchange Studio, Manchester
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 125th September 2009 performance at the Bush Theatre, Shepherd's Bush Green, London W12 (Tube: Shepherd's Bush)

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