The Confessions Of Gordon Brown/Who Wants To Kill Yulia Tymoshenko?

THEATRE

The Confessions Of Gordon Brown
3 stars ***
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
Who Wants To Kill Yulia Tymoshenko?
3 stars ***
Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)

IF EVER there was a modern political story that had all the makings of a great tragedy, it is the tale of Gordon Brown, of his brilliant rise from the streets of Kirkcaldy – where his father was a minister – to the heights of global politics, and of the brief and disastrous premiership that he finally wrested from the grasp of his great political partner and rival, Tony Blair.

The problem with Kevin Toolis’s new solo play, though, is that it has trouble deciding where to focus its dramatic energy, in a brief 60-minute monologue; it even seems unsure whether it wants to be a cynical political comedy, or a tragedy about a man who genuinely entered politics to make the world a better place. Set in Downing Street towards the end of the Brown premiership, at a frozen early-morning moment while he waits for his staff to arrive, the show is full of sharp and brilliant observations about the endless PR circus of modern politics, the desperate intrusions into privacy modern public figures must suffer, and – above all – the lies that surround the business of leadership, in an age when leaders must pretend to be just like the rest of us; Toolis even offers some psychological speculation about Brown’s relationship with his mother, and the impact of his early loss of eyesight.

The text – delivered with terrific, persuasive panache by Ian Grieve – is perhaps at its most chillingly brilliant in the moments when it hints at Brown’s growing cultural loneliness as a son of the manse at Westminster, desperately soliciting southern Enlgish votes; at its funniest in evoking Gordon’s blistering contempt for the Blairs. In the end, though, this impossibly rich mix of a play doesn’t quite succeed either in conjuring up the real Gordon Brown, or in creating a coherent fictional version of the man; although for those who care about politics, it offers a continuously fascinating stream of ideas, presented with some style.

Over at Assembly Roxy, meanwhile, the producer, writer and actress Ines Wurth poses a key question about the risks of political leadership in a post-Soviet world where failure can mean real physical danger. Based on the true story of Ukraine’s former prime minster Yulia Tymoshenko, this 60-minute play is set in the Kiev prison where Tymoshenko now languishes, following her conviction on corruption charges widely believed to have been trumped up by her political enemies.

Forced to share a cell with a prostitute turned government spy, this fictional Tymoshenko has time – with the help of some video footage – to reflect on her career so far, in a show that presents her as an unambiguously positive figure, trying to use political power to raise the ordinary people of Ukraine out of poverty; there’s some powerful dialogue with her cellmate, played with great intensityby Marijana Matokovic. In truth, though, Tymoshenko is as complex a figure as most political leaders, a beautiful, charismatic and very wealthy woman with a life unlike anything most Ukrainians have ever known. And on the day I saw the show, the actress Katarina Arbanas – alternating with Wurth in the leading role – struggled to evoke that glowing and overwhelming star quality, which always sits uneasily with democracy, whether in victory, or in defeat.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26, 25
pp. 271, 337

ENDS

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