Paul Johnson | 01 Dec 2016 11:02am
Geoffrey Howe’s high-profile resignation speech to Parliament on 1 November 1990 proved to be the final nail in Margaret Thatcher’s Prime Ministerial coffin. Way out of character, and taking the whole of Parliament by surprise, the PM’s fiercely loyal – but underestimated – sidekick finally rose up against his lord and master, not able to contain himself any longer, and committed the political assassination of probably the most famous and infamous British Prime Minister of the 20th Century.
This week in Bromley the story is played out onstage as the UK tour of Jonathan Maitland’s Dead Sheep spends its final week at the Churchill Theatre. The obscure title, which emphasises the magnitude of Howe’s action, comes from 1978 when Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, claimed that an attack from Geoffrey Howe was “like being savaged by a dead sheep.”
Maitland’s sharp dramatic version certainly contains plenty of humour – strongly supported by the casting of Spitting Image’s gifted Steve Nallon as a dead ringer for Maggie Thatcher – but if you’re expecting a slapstick puppet-like romp or an episode of The Thick of It then you’ll be disappointed. It’s the dramatic occasion that ultimately wins the day here.
It’s in that drama that we come to realise the importance of Howe’s wife, Elspeth, in her husband’s bravado. As a feminist continually clashing with Thatcher’s ideology, Elspeth Howe (Carol Royle) – according to Maitland – was arguably every bit responsible for the Iron Lady’s downfall as was her spouse.
Holby City and EastEnders’ Paul Bradley excels as our mild-mannered protagonist as does the aforementioned Steve Nallon who proves he has much more to offer – both in looks and mannerisms – than just Thatcher’s iconic Spitting Image voice. The play’s sharp political wit comes courtesy of a trio of political commentators, namely: Graham Seed as Ian Gow, Christopher Villiers as Alan Clark and John Wark as Stephen Wall… the latter of whom presents a hilariously grotesque and slightly over-the-top impersonation of ITV’s chief political interviewer, Brian Walden.
It’s all highly thought-provoking stuff, it’s just a shame that Bromley’s regular theatregoers didn’t appear to agree with the Churchill only around 40% full on press night.
Dead Sheep plays out its final week at The Churchill Theatre Bromley running until Saturday, 3rd December. More at: www.deadsheepontour.co.uk
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- : 30/11/2016