Writer: Michael Chaplin.
Director: Max Roberts.
Reviewer: Michael Hunter.
The Public Reviews Rating:
Politics is always in the news. A week ago an election and referendum in the UK, America on the hunt for that elusive War Criminal, all life-changing matters no matter where you have laid that hat.
So, it’s very apt that this play is based upon the struggle of Chris Mullin, the recently retired MP for Sunderland South. His diaries ‘A View from the Foothills’ and ‘Decline & Fall’ are spliced up and given to us on a platter called ‘A Walk On Part -The Fall of New Labour’. Set in Newcastle’s wonderful Live Theatre, the play goes on to describe how Mullin was a Labour stalwart backbencher who rose to become almost the ‘enemy of the state’, with his views on the War on Terror, his dislike for elitism and maybe not knowing when to give in!
Rising in 1991 after elections in his constituency, from working under John Prescott (not a pleasant thought!) as a Junior Minister through to his many Governmental posts, Mullin cites many a tale that included his not so friendly dealings with PM (and North East based MP) Tony Blair – who he lovingly and very amusingly refers to in his diaries as “The Man” – over the whole ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ debacle. Not a fan of War, Mullin goes on to describe how he thought George W. Bush was nothing more than a shoulder for Blair to rest his weary head upon when the going got tough. His accounts of the terrible tragedies of the 9/11 plane hijacks in America and the 7/7 Tube and Bus bombings in London, brought them both back to our own memory with frightening accuracy. He also encompassed local life as a gritty regional MP, with stories of the impoverished, his home, family and the outcome of the years in the elected seat.
The five actors on stage took many roles as the play switched from timespan and events in his time of office. The wonderfully talented John Hodgkinson, was seamless as Mullin in his interacted role with the cast. His narrative was superb as he recounted with humanity and heartfelt soul the stories that mattered. He must have been a natural choice for the casting department of Lucy Jenkins and Sooki McShane. Phillippa Wilson, who was very inventive as his loyal and dutiful wife Ngoc, certainly played her part in making this a play to remember. The brilliant Hywel Morgan – his first time working in the North East – does a brilliant Blair in this, which had the audience wondering if cloning had been undertaken. His mannerisms and accent were very life-like. Tracey Gillman (who I witnessed as Cilla in ‘Me & Cilla’, also at Live) and Jim Kitson (who can be seen at the moment on ITV’s North East Detective series ‘Vera’) kept up the high ratio of talent on stage with cracking displays. Gillman’s acting was second to none as she swapped places with many different characters. Kitson made the crowd laugh with his grumpy take on John Prescott. The swaggering attitude of the fat-cat MP came through shining to the surface.
The great stage set up of a multi bank of screens kept us up to speed of dates, sounds and visionary elements.
From this play it is easy to see that Writer Michael Chaplin and Director Max Roberts have forged a very tight relationship, both working together on 10 previous occasions. The actors, linked-in with great production standards, performed with a marvellous amount of symmetry and humour that kept the crowds smiling and wanting a hell of a lot more.