There really was only one way to cover the Donmar Warehouse’s ground-breaking performance of The Vote, performed in the very minutes it is set while being simultaneously screened on More4: have reporters experience it every way possible.
So we sent Matthew Amer to the theatre, Charlotte Marshall to her sofa and Kate Stanbury to her polling station to compare the drama of James Graham’s uniquely timely farce, and it’s real life counterpart.
Voting at the theatre
The Vote was my solar eclipse. My ‘meh’ attitude to a couple of celestial bodies getting in each other’s way was roundly mocked a few weeks ago. Those happen every decade or so; watching The Vote performed at the Donmar at the precise time it is set, while being televised, was genuinely a once in a lifetime experience.
So often these phenomena don’t live up to their sky high expectations, do they? But, by jiminy, this did.
From standing in an Earlham Street dominated by tech lorries while MyAnna Buring and co-stars cavorted excitedly pre-show there was a fervour unlike any other press night. Election Day spirit shaken with a mixer of uniqueness made the experience a wonderfully joyous cocktail.
Let loose on the Donmar’s stage before the performers there was even the chance to vote in the Robert Jones-designed set and play spot the cameras around the auditoria. If you watched at home, it might surprise you to learn that far from cameramen roaming the Donmar, the images you saw were collected by a dozen subtle static cameras, presumably controlled remotely.
Then there were the performances – Mark Gatiss’ gorgeously built Steven Crosswell, Catherine Tate’s spiralling Kirsty Henderson, Paul Chahidi’s fabulously passionate and pathetic independent candidate who I could have leapt off my seat to hug – and James Graham’s astute writing that celebrated everything it is to vote in Britain, with all its subtext and rituals, power and mundanity.
You may have seen the wonderful sight of actors flooding the Donmar’s stage to take their bow and the immediate standing ovation given by the audience. You won’t have seen how long that ovation lasted, long after the last performer had disappeared. Never was such an ovation more deserved.
Voting on the TV
I voted Labour but what I’m about to say is rather more conservative: I quite like watching theatre in an, you know, actual theatre. I like the excitement of finding your seat, the ritual of turning your phone off (then checking your phone is off another three times) and the dimming of the lights that signal for a stretch of time, with Twitter, conversation and all else off the menu, the rest of the world will cease to exist.
It’s much the same for the brilliant cinema initiatives – bar more acceptance for the odd toilet break – so while I thought the Donmar Warehouse’s idea to stream The Vote was incredible on many levels, I was dubious as to how affecting I’d find it. But whether it was James Graham’s writing, the impeccable filming, Paul Chahidi’s comic timing or the excitement of seeing Judi Dench just ever, watching The Vote on TV more than worked, it soared.
It added something to be able to text my mum – “That’s Judi’s REAL daughter! It’s like us if we were famous and, you know, talented!” – to be able to tweet the one friend I had who was appearing in the show afterwards to celebrate, to be able to shout at the screen “don’t clap, we’re British, people!” when Jude Law made his cameo, to share adoration for aforementioned Chahidi with my flatmate, and quietly feel stirred – in my slippers – by the moment the Conservative MP reflected on how his Nigerian parents would feel to see his name on the ballot paper.
Graham’s play was understated and over the top all at the same time. I think I laughed louder than I would have in the theatre and enjoyed being able to vocalise the moments you wanted to eat your own fingers cringing.
After a stressful day, we all needed light relief, and More4 and the Donmar Warehouse provided the perfect antidote. And today? Well, thank God for catch up.
Voting in person
I stupidly thought all the drama would be at the Donmar Warehouse, but voting in person certainly had its fair share. Finding the polling station was a drama in itself, having only an address that Google Maps believed to be in York (a mere 215 miles from my home IN LONDON) to get me there.
Catching sight of the black and white ‘Polling Station’ sign was a relief. I could finally register my vote. A jogger, clearly making a flying visit to register his, whipped past me, as I, at a significantly slower pace, ambled towards the entrance intrigued at how this building that I (and Google Maps) didn’t even know existed had been welcoming local residents all day.
Greeted by two polling clerks, with another member of staff – the chief polling station officer? – lurking in the background somewhat more discreetly than Mark Gatiss’ authority-relishing Steven, I gave my name and address in return for a ballot that I sincerely hoped was my own. At the booth, I marked my cross (or chose my coloured sweetie), folded the paper and posted it through the ballot box. Simple.
It wasn’t so simple for the lady I’d passed on the way in talking frantically on her phone who was now trying, clearly not for the first time, to convince the clerks that she HAD registered to vote. I don’t know whether she succeeded; I left, wondering what the country had in store once this small room in the centre of Ealing returned to its usual function in the morning.
If you were too busy voting to watch the live stream, you can watch The Vote on 4OD here.
"You won’t have seen how long the standing ovation lasted, long after the last performer had disappeared. Never was such an ovation more deserved."