A WALK ON PART
from the diaries of Chris Mullin adapted by Michael Chaplin.
Live Theatre Broad Chare Quayside NE1 3DQ To 4 June 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 4pm Mat 2 June 2pm.
BSL Signed 2 June 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0191 232 1232.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 May.
Unassuming political hero takes the stage.
Mean-spirited; self-justifying; tedious: part of a galaxy of terms for politicians’ memoirs that couldn’t be attached to the diaries of long-serving Sunderland South Labour MP (until his retirement at the 2010 General Election), Chris Mullin. Though frank about his disappointment at never climbing high in government, every sentence of Michael Chaplin’s script shows an MP who wouldn’t surrender principles (or claim suspect expenses).
while shrewdly observant, he’s generous, with a good word for almost anybody. His first political boss, John Prescott, usually caricatured as a verbally stumbling buffoon, is praised for his intelligence, with which his mouth (and less bright auditors) cannot keep up (there’s a splendid one-liner example). And when Tony Blair, no longer Prime Minister, asks Mullins’ view of him, the MP mentions there are many good things, though the Iraq War overclouded them all.
Live Theatre creates few new full-productions of its own each year, but they are (on my sampling certainly) distinctive, each made in its own style. Lee Hall’s The Pitman Painters, Shelagh Stephenson’s A Northern Odyssey reflect the region in different styles, and this fast-paced piece stands alongside them.
Director Max Roberts clearly knows his audience, and how to use Live’s unique stage/audience layout. Backed by screens with political images, and changing dates to help keep up, the play’s centre is John Hodgkinson’s portrayal of Mullin. With earnest, slightly breathy voice, tie aligned with the leaning Tower of Pisa and body perpetually like a piece of flexible plastic that’s been bent out of shape and can’t quite be pushed back straight, Hodgkinson patrols the stage, comments directly and has brief encounters extracted from the Diaries.
A fine performance, it’s the opposite of his commanding, (for me) definitive Bernard Nightingale in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia some years ago. A fine supporting cast includes Hywel Morgan’s gleamingly smooth (but not parodied) Tony Blair and moments of intensity from Tracy Gillman as an asylum-seeking child. Mullins’ successes and failures with asylum-families are shown as affecting him deeply. They are the measure of the man and notable moments contrasting the brisk pace of political activity elsewhere in the show.
Cast: John Hodgkinson, Phillippa Wilson, Tracy Gillman, Hywel Morgan, Jim Kitson.
Director: Max Roberts.
Designer: Gary McCann.
Lighting: Drummond Orr.
Sound: Dave Flynn.
AV: Paul Aziz.