Spitting Image satirist Alistair Beaton puts Jeremy Corbyn on a West End stage
PUBLISHED: 08:00 25 May 2016
Ever since Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader last year on a bigger mandate than even Tony Blair, there has been talk of a coup to oust him.
For political satirist Alistair Beaton, it was the perfect inspiration for a biting 20-minute play about an “imaginary” internal plot against a party leader – one of five pieces penned by different writers that together make up the show, A View from Islington North, at the Arts Theatre.
Corbyn and the Labour Party won’t be mentioned by name in An Accidental Leader – but, as Beaton says, “if you don’t spot references to Corbyn then you’ve probably not left the house for a couple of years”.
But you can be sure that the piece is directly inspired by the Corbyn phenomenon.
“It couldn’t be more topical. Every time I open a newspaper or read something online, I discover another rumour or a plot,” adds Beaton, who lives in Corbyn’s constituency in Tufnell Park.
“When the whole leadership of a party is at stake, there’s a lot to play for – and when there’s a lot to play for, you’ve got drama.”
Scottish-born Beaton is unashamedly left wing, but Labour has by no means escaped his ruthless gaze in the last three decades.
In fact, it’s quite the contrary. A founding member of Not the Nine O’Clock News and a lyricist for Spitting Image, Beaton was behind 2005’s award-winning TV film A Social Secretary about the David Blunkett affair, and was nominated for a Bafta for the scathing TV drama, The Trial of Tony Blair.
In theatre, he has worked with A View director and Holloway resident Max Stafford-Clark several times, including on Feelgood, a 2001 Hampstead Theatre production about New Labour spin doctors.
Corbyn may be the subject of his newest satire, but Beaton was initially very supportive of the 66-year-old veteran politician.
“When Corbyn came out of the left field, as it were, I found it quite cheering. I looked at the other candidates for the Labour leadership and I thought, how dreary, how depressing, this is the same old stuff.”
But, eight months in, he now says that “the clock is ticking on Mr Corbyn”.
“The real question in my head is: is he any good as a leader?
“I’m very sympathetic to his policies but you’ve got to be able to sell policies to the electorate and you’ve got to make a few compromises,” he says.
“At the same time I haven’t lost my sense of hope that a really radical Labour party might emerge from this.”
Corbyn is not the only politician targeted in A View from Islington North. Hampstead playwright David Hare’s play focuses on chancellor George Osborne in the middle of a free market crisis, while Caryl Churchill draws attention to a widespread lack of arts funding.
Mark Ravenhill then explores the true price of Britain’s military endeavours, with Stella Feehily analysing the political machinations that occur behind closed doors.
“None of the plays in this collection preach at you,” Beaton assures. “This is not some grim band of lefties out to harangue the audience.
“All the pieces are entertaining and witty and take a sideways look at contemporary politics.”
It’s a busy time for Beaton. As well as A View, he has penned a satirical comedy about villagers protesting fracking called Fracked! Or: Please Don’t Use The F-Word! that will open in Chichester in July.
More surprisingly, multi-linguist Beaton is also preparing for the opening of the German opera Die Fledermaus, for which he has translated the lyrics, at Opera Holland Park in July. “It gives me a break from being angry,” he explains.
But satire will always be at the heart of Beaton’s body of work.
Over the course of his career, he’s seen the rise and fall of more than a few prime ministers, but can he pick a golden era for satire?
He can’t say for sure. “I find that there’s always someone declaring that satire is dead – then a couple of years later it rises from the grave,” he adds.
“But there are so many big social and political problems now, not least climate change, which are not being addressed by political leaders. I think satire is needed now more than ever.”
A View from Islington North, from Karl Sydow and Out of Joint, runs at the Arts Theatre in the West End until July 2.