Life After Scandal

Published April 17, 2008

If you are caught out acting improperly you deserve everything you get, don't you? Robin Soans's new play, Life After Scandal, the first in the Hampstead's autumn season, aims to shed a little more light on this dark and murky idea by giving the subjects of such scandal a chance to reply. Lord Brocket, the Hamiltons, Edwina Currie, Jonathan Aitken and the Ingrams were all interviewed to create this new verbatim piece. The whiter than white Matthew Amer attended the first night.

Life After Scandal's opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Each character on stage says no to being interviewed for a play about scandal, pointing out that it is a terrible idea and will probably just feed the beast. But they are all interviewed in the end. Why? Possible the lure of the spotlight, who knows, but a cynical mind might consider that many of these 'victims' rather like the limelight.

Soans has a gift for verbatim theatre and again, in Life After Scandal, the various interviews are woven together as intricately as many of the scandalous plots being discussed. The characters are always in conversation; sometimes, it seems, with each other, often with the audience and the unseen interviewer.

Sitting amid Patrick Connellan's members' club/high class restaurant set – all red carpet, leather sofas and towering columns – the characters discuss their own cases and the similarity to others; time in prison, how it affects reputation and relationships, and how, while the public likes nothing more than a juicy piece of gossip, the people who suffer are, in fact, human.

Of course, what we are getting is their version of events, and though much of what is said is genuinely tragic and affecting, the truth of it is questionable.

For all the tabloid fodder, the more political aspect of scandal provides an intriguing angle. Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan played by Bruce Alexander as a twitchy, fidgety man full of simmering repressed anger, tells of how scandal was used against him when the government wanted to undermine his claims about humanitarian disasters. The same is said for Robin Cook, while PR man James Herring, whose mere presence makes you feel dirty, ensures that the upsides of scandal are not forgotten.

The ensemble cast, which includes Caroline Quentin on her return to the stage, flit between characters, Alexander shining as Murray, a jack-the-lad Brocket and unrepentant journalist David Leigh. Geraldine Fitzgerald's Edwina Currie stands out, as Currie often does, as a woman with an uncontrollable ego and an axe to grind.

While the stories told are never less than engaging and the 'victims' of scandal are often charismatic people with a lot to say, you can't help wondering that if, as they say, they were really that affected by it all, why they felt the need to talk about it and have it served up on stage for all to see.

Life After Scandal runs at the Hampstead until 20 October.

MA