In one sense, Farragut North has been done before. The television series The Thick of It and Yes Minister showed, with considerable depth, the inner machinations of modern politics, and the utter ruthlessness of it all. The difference between public relations and spin is in its deception and outright manipulation – a distortion, if you will, of truth. Or, for those who like it blunt: spin involves lying. Where this play stands out, however, is in its consideration of the political mind games and fierce competition even before getting to power.
Stephen Bellamy (Brad Johnson), is the 25-year-old press secretary for a US presidential candidate. Except Bellamy’s man isn’t actually the apparent “next president of the United States” just yet, because the leadership election (‘primaries’) are still taking place, state by state by state. Despite his tender years, Bellamy has a number of election campaigns under his belt and is already considered by political observers and commentators as an astute spin doctor.
Bellamy’s eventual downfall thus surprised me, not because the overall campaign manager, Paul Zara (Harry Reeder) was older and wiser than him, and therefore completely disarmed him. It was simply that it seems implausible that Bellamy would have reached such a senior position in the Democratic Party in the first place without having an acute understanding of what to say to whom and in the right way at the right time, and so on. But then perhaps it was simply the ‘Peter Principle’ in action – that is, Bellamy was promoted repeatedly until he reached the level of his incompetence. Brad Johnson’s Bellamy, sure enough, did come across more convincing when his clean-cut image began to unravel.
The dialogue gets bogged down in a little too much detail, such that the audience must tolerate discussion of field directors, precinct captains and stump speeches (whatever they are). It’s all secondary to the infinitely larger narrative, where absolutely everything in the private lives of those who get deeply involved in the political sphere could be very publicly exposed. The projections used in this production are (sad to say) utterly pointless, adding precisely nothing to the dialogue, and ended up proving rather distracting, especially when conversation proceeds at a fleeting pace befitting confident and assertive spin doctors deep in discussion.
There’s a good performance from Olivia Barton-Fisher as teenage intern Molly, who seems to be shagging her way up the career ladder. It’s John McSpadyen as Tom Duffy, the campaign manager for the ‘other’ candidate, who steals the show for me. Well-spoken, cool, calm and collected, McSpadyen’s Duffy was a breath of fresh air against Bellamy’s four-letter words and blustery manner.
Perhaps the play is so successful in its display of calculated strategies and backstabbing that it becomes a victim of its own success. I felt little, if any, sympathy for any of the characters by the end of the show. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword, and the power-hungry realise, sooner or later, that what they are prepared to do to others to get power, others will be prepared to do to them, and more besides. Although more subtle (and less explosive) than I expected it to be – mind you, there’s nothing wrong with subtlety – this play successfully explores the problem with demanding perfection from human beings, whether in politics or in any other profession.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Who are the “King Makers”?
Prior to creating the award-winning Kevin Spacey TV vehicle House of Cards, Beau Willimon penned Farragut North, inspired by his experience as a press aide for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Set during the presidential primaries, the campaign managers and publicists will do anything they can to manipulate the press and public opinion. Masters of their game, they are slick, driven, ambitious and take no prisoners on their journey to success.
Stephen Bellamy : Brad Johnson
Paul Zara : Harry Reeder
Molly : Olivia Barton-Fisher
Ben : Sam Macqueen
Tom Duffy : John McSpadyen
Ida Horowitz : Jill Ruane
Frank : Nigel Oram
Waitress : Bianca Beckles-Rose
Director : Michael Bettell
Set Design : Rosie Shipman
Costume Design : Jennifer Kohn
Assisted by Lily Ann Coleman
Lighting Design : Robin Snowdon
Sound Design : Leon Chambers
Stage Manager : Eleanor Corrigan
Assistant Director : Fred Janaway
Publicity Co-ordinator : Sue Brodie
Farragut North by Beau Willimon
Directed by Michael Bettell
The Tower Theatre performing at the Bridewell Theatre
Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 29th September – Saturday 3rd October
Matinée at 3.00 Saturday 3rd October 2015
Bride Lane (off Fleet Street),
London EC4Y 8EQ
Wednesday 30th September 2015