Max Stafford-Clark, the lauded Artistic Director of theatre company Out Of Joint, is bringing political theatre back to the West End with a bang and a guffaw. A View From Islington North, which offers five short satirical plays in just one evening, begins poking fun at politicians from 18 May at the Arts Theatre.
The satirical writers taking wit-fuelled aim at those who do, or would, run our country, are the impressive quintet David Hare, Mark Ravenhill, Caryl Churchill, Stella Feehily and Alistair Beaton.
Beaton, who, with TV credits including Not The Nine O’Clock News and Spitting Image, is used to dissecting the establishment for the amusement of audiences, took the time to explain his concerns and excitement to Official London Theatre:
When the redoubtable Max Stafford-Clark invited me to write one of five short political plays to be staged at the Arts Theatre, I was immediately interested. And only a few minutes later, slightly doubtful.
The title of the evening worried me a little: A View From Islington North. Did this mean we were all meant to beat the drum for Jeremy Corbyn? Not that I’m utterly against Mr Corbyn, I just didn’t want to be part of some earnest leftie hosannah to the Bearded One. I needn’t have feared. When I discovered that David Hare, Mark Ravenhill, Caryl Churchill and Stella Feehily would be on board, I knew that the view would be varied and provocative.
It’s clear there’s something stirring in the stale world of British politics, an inchoate sense that the old formulae are not working, that nobody in high office appears to have any serious answers to the big questions. So I decided to tackle head-on the issue of an unlikely left-wing candidate being propelled into high office, and the subsequent gasps of horror from the old guard. I wanted to explore how a party hollowed out by Blairism had become a party of management, rather than a party of radical change. In fact Labour had, in a way, become the party that dare not speak its name. A grass roots rebellion against this struck me as fertile territory for drama – and a little bit of comedy.
The deadlines were tight, so I got writing more or less immediately. I’d never written a one-act play before and I found the process enormously liberating. How nice not to have to worry about the second act, often the most challenging aspect of a full-length play.
I soon decided to focus on those within his own party who would like to see the back of Corbyn. A remarkable amount of Westminster politics is conducted in pubs and bars, and so I settled on an upstairs room in a pub as the venue for a plot to oust the leader.
As the weeks passed, I began to feel apprehensive. Almost every day came rumours of an anti-Corbyn coup. Was I going to be upstaged by events? As I write this, it can’t entirely be ruled out that the assassins will strike during the run of the play, but I rather suspect that Mr Corbyn is going to be around for a bit longer than that.
I decided to call my little play The Accidental Leader. I find it fascinating that a man who spent years being a backbench rebel should suddenly find himself leader of the party. The plotters in the upstairs room – and the activist who confronts them – allow me to explore the issues without diluting the drama.
Is the Corbyn phenomenon something hopeful to believe in? A new politics? Or is it merely a party turning in on itself, handing power to a man who shows scant evidence of leadership abilities? Being not entirely sure of the answers to these questions myself, the play doesn’t hector or lecture, but seeks to explore. And to relish the grotesque and the laughable that are all part of modern politics.