Anything involving politics is a hot ticket nowadays, it seems. Left, right, in and out – everybody is an avid armchair expert. It would be easy to ascribe this to the recent upheavals in our country’s political landscape, but in fact it’s been going on for a while; from the hit stage revival of Yes Minister to the overwhelming popularity of TV Shows such as The Thick Of It and House Of Cards, the running of our countries – and the people involved – is apparently of intense interest.
In this climate, it makes a weird kind of sense to bring a relatively obscure – on this side of the pond at least – play about Canadian politics to the British stage. Extremely controversial in its native country, due to its occasionally less than flattering depiction of a real life, high-profile player, to us it is little more than an interesting study in fictionalised political power play. That said, if you omit the geographically and personally specific references, this play could really be set anywhere; the Machiavellian manoeuverings and cynical manipulation are pretty much universal currency on the world political stage.
The play begins just after the 2011 Canadian General Election, but in writer Michael Healey’s alternate universe, instead of the NDP making unprecedented inroads, the Conservative Party swept the boards, leading to almost absolute power for incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Drunk with the glorious prospect of being able to make the changes he has always dreamed of, the premier and his ruthless aide, Cary, are suddenly confronted with a fly in the ointment; in this case an obscure, leggy Quebecois MP rushing into their office in search of a condom. Single mum and ex-restaurant manager Jisbella Lyth has decided to christen her new desk.
Thwarted in his attempt to dispose of her quietly, Harper decides to make the best of a bad situation and use the chaotic, head-line grabbing bombshell to mask his own slightly dubious machinations – but who is really manipulating who?
Ardently left-wing himself, writer Healey nevertheless manages to deliver a balanced depiction of a man who, I have a sneaking suspicion, he secretly admires. Devious and unprincipled he most certainly is, but this Stephen Harper is anything but villainous. On the contrary, he is endearingly nerdy and awkward and – most importantly – he really seems to have the best interest of the Canadian people at heart. Nicholas Cass-Beggs interprets the role sensitively, deftly managing the difficult balancing act between warm-hearted man of the people and cold, calculating marketing genius. The other two main roles, Cary and Jisbella, are rather more two-dimensional, acting primarily as foils for Harper, but Jude Monk McGowan and Emily Head flesh them out with enthusiasm. All three are charming, enjoyable characters and the rapier sharp repartee between them is highly comic. This of course means a whole heap of emotional turmoil for the audience as they try to get their heads around the fact that these loveable rogues are actually doing a lot of morally reprehensible things.
The lightning pace of the show is helped by the fact that it only has one set – Harper’s office. Deceptively Spartan, this unassuming cubicle is the power-centre, where lives, both large and small, can be made or broken. The fizzing energy is unfortunately deflated by the “let’s wrap it all up” spot-lit ending, which is basically a somewhat dispiriting lecture. I can see why they felt the need to find a conclusion, and Will Firth gave it his best, but you cannot help but feel somewhat let down.
Ultimately, nothing earth-shattering actually happens in this production, and the Pygmalion-esque storyline is so unbelievable as to be risible. However, that’s not what Proud is about.
The ideas are the thing – the eloquent rants from Harper in particular provide a fascinating into the private headspace of a very public politician. His debates with Jisbella, when he explains to her the reality of how things actually work may or may not be accurate, but they are certainly insightful and they make you think. Overall, Proud is an original, entertaining and intelligent play, certainly up to the standard of what we have come to expect from the excellent Finborough Theatre.
Review by Genni Trickett
“Nothing happens when there’s a crisis except for work on that crisis, You’re a politician now, figure out what your beliefs are and get back to me.”
In a new production commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, the European premiere of Proud by Michael Healey runs at the Finborough Theatre, playing Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees from Sunday, 17 July 2016.
Shortly after the Conservatives win a majority government, the prime minister discovers a secret weapon in his caucus – Jisbella Lyth, a single mother with a limited understanding of her role as a MP. Using her ignorance to his advantage, the PM hatches a plan to have Jisbella front and center in a campaign of misdirection and distraction…
A stunning new play from multi-award-winning Canadian playwright Michael Healey, Proud explores the corrosive nature of the politics of division and asks what we actually want out of our politics and our politicians.
Continuing the Finborough Theatre’s acclaimed discoveries of new work from Canada, Proud is the third in a trilogy of award-winning plays about contemporary values (including the play Generous which was a sell-out success at the Finborough Theatre in 2010).