Skilful portrait of the Blair years
The Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone HHHII
New plays written by a team of writers often seem like a thesis presented by a committee. Greenland, the National Theatre’s 2011 multi-authored play about global warming lacked focus and individuality even if you couldn’t see the joins. In Blair’s Children, the Cockpit’s first homegrown play for 30 years, five playwrights revisit the Blair years. Each writer takes on one of five characters who we meet in a London café. The resulting monologues are intercut with skill and ingenuity to present a vivid portrait of the times.
Inspired by the 70s play Kennedy’s Children, the writers – April De Angelis, Georgia Fitch, Anders Lustgarten, Mark Norfolk and Paula B Stanic – paint a picture of London as a city of lonely, displaced and disaffected individuals. All the characters are shades of working class: Jennifer, a one-time Blairite MP; Vlatco, a Serbian immigrant; Marie, a former youth worker; Dee with his police tag; and Maggie, an ageing Glaswegian activist. Their personal emotional journeys echo the Blair-era shifts from the euphoria of ‘Things can only get better’ to the doubt, betrayal and disillusionment that ensued. At points, the writing soars: Maggie’s account of her son’s death fighting in Iraq and Marie explaining how she lost her son to fundamentalism both highlight the theme of maternal loss. Jennifer’s invocation of Shelley to inspire her niece to study catches the hopes for a better future. At just under two hours, the play feels too long and the characters, especially Vlatco and Jennifer, sometimes stray too close to cliché. But Charlotte Westenra’s clean direction and the sparely designed set keep the attention on the actors. Royce Pierreson shines as Dee with his neat line in street Patois.
While political detail is well researched – Maggie and Jennifer fill in on key events – the play doesn’t tell us anything new about the Blair years. The narrative of lost idealism is well known. It does, however, remind us what it felt like and how individuals look to political leaders as surrogate father figures. As society fragments, we need to be stripped of that delusion, especially as Marie comments, when lives get “much harder and darker than a Mike Leigh film.”
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