TONY’S LAST TAPE
by Andy Barrett.
Nottingham Playhouse (Neville Studio) Wellington Circus NG1 5AF To 28 February 2015.
Runs: 1hr 15min No interval.
Review: Alan Geary: 26 February.
A compelling one-hander about Tony Benn.
In the run-up to the May elections the Playhouse continues what amounts to a mini-left-wing season by premiering a new one-hander from Andy Barrett. Directed by Giles Croft and staged in the upstairs Neville Studio, Tony’s Last Tape is a highly compelling look into the personal and political life of the late Tony Benn.
Obviously it’s part homage to Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. An old man’s in his study with a reel-to-reel tape recorder eating bananas. Instead of alcohol he drinks tea.
He also smokes a pipe – the play’s nicely non-PC. It’s a bent billiard. Benn knows his pipes and collects them; from a distance this one looks like a Peterson.
Unlike Krapp’s, it’s a cluttered study, as lived-in as the ratty dressing gown and anti-poll tax tee-shirt Benn’s wearing. Again unlike Krapp, he’s making, not listening to, his last tape, for his long-dead brother Mike. Along with him, he’s still missing adored wife Caroline.
Benn is portrayed as a man of contradictions. He’s teetotal but smokes too much; he’s a left-wing radical but with Christian sympathies; he’s an aristocrat but a man of the people (sort of), and a CND supporter but former wartime bomber pilot. And he’s a Minister of Technology who can’t do DIY.
Philip Bretherton delivers a wonderful performance. He wisely avoids impersonation – not once does he say “ishooes” instead of “issues”. But he captures the essence of his subject, including the upper middle-class vowel sounds Benn never dumped along with his peerage. Over the 75 minutes you wonder whether the occasional forgetting is down to Bretherton or Benn or both – it matters little.
It’s a bitter-sweet play. Benn’s a dreadful name-dropper – David Niven, Gandhi, the Queen Mother; and there’s no false modesty. But he has a realistic appreciation of himself: he seems to go along with Enoch Powell’s dictum: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure”.
Tony Benn: Philip Bretherton.
Director: Giles Croft.
Designer: Rachael Jacks.
Lighting/Sound: Martin Curtis.
Assistant director: Rachel Ross.