Politicians are always terrified of the idea of a whiff of scandal. Those with a past – and who doesn’t have one? – must always be terrified when a representative of the tabloid gives them a call and wants to chat about old times. Of course, a scandal can come from the most unlikely of places and maybe that’s why the political classes do everything to distance themselves from normal folk, which leads to resentment and anger as the gap between ‘them’ and ‘us’ gets wider. These twin themes are the basis of Tim Cook’s play Tremors having a run at the King’s Head Theatre.
In the early hours of the morning, MP and rising star of the Labour Party Tom Crowe (William Vasey) is in trouble, deep trouble. Tom has been involved in an incident in a hotel room with a more senior member of the party – a married man of impeccable reputation. Tom doesn’t know what to do but, like all MPs he knows who will be able to assist him. His special advisor, or SPAD, Lisa (Vicky Winning). After interrogating Tom to get all the details, she advises him to head off somewhere and hide away until the potential embarrassment dies down. Tom decides to go to his home town of Eastbourne and once there, he catches up with an old friend of his Marie (Cerys Knighton). Marie has stayed in the town all her life and seen it slowly sinking into the economic wilderness as another forgotten seaside town, crying out for investment and support. She and Tom were once activists and, along with Marie’s brother Chris (Tim Cook) tried, by various less than legal means, to raise awareness of the economic plight of the town. On top of everything else, Tom is worried that his days as an ‘urban warrior’ might come out but at the same time, he wants to help Eastbourne – even though, as Lisa reminds him, it isn’t his constituency. With so many things on Tom’s mind, will he be able to make the party, his SPAD, his friends and his enemies happy?
I have to admit that I had some trouble with the opening premise of Tremors. Tim Cook has written Tom as an MP scared to come out of the closet but this doesn’t really feel that realistic considering that we have had gay MPs and even cabinet ministers for many years now. In fact, from what I’ve seen, the worst thing any gay MP can do is try and hide themselves – it always comes out eventually. Looking at Tom, he just seemed to me to be way too naive to be an MP. These days, most of our political class are professionals who have gone from university, to intern in a party to advisor, to SPAD, to practice in an unwinnable seat and finally being parachuted into somewhere relatively safe. Tom, I’m afraid seemed to have just wandered into being an MP with no real idea of what the job or his party was going to expect. Having said that, I did think the character of Lisa was well written. A sort of Malcolm Tucker with some fairly smooth edges, Lisa is a definite party apparatchik whose one concern is controlling the image of the party irrespective of who she has to destroy in the process. I liked the fact that, just once, did Lisa almost snap at Tom and point out she actually had a life of her own as well, almost as though she had hit breaking point of babysitting him – and who could blame her? Marie and Chris were slightly puzzling. I wasn’t sure why Tom was worried about them nor why Chris – full of righteous indignation about the way the country had gone – hadn’t used his potential blackmailing influence over Tom to get him to help in the fight.
Tremors has the issue of sharing a stage with another production, but Director Paul Macauley makes very good use of the other show’s set, and the four actors make the most of their respective parts. Vicky, in particular really impressed me once she got into her stride and her scene with Cerys as Marie was full of that wonderfully understated venom and spite that two women can bring to their discussions – especially about what is the best thing for ‘their’ man.
Overall, it felt to me that Tremors needed a little bit more work to tighten up the characters and maybe dial back the politics slightly. The death of a coastal town has been well reported and, coming from Southend, is something I see whenever I go back there and I do applaud Tim bringing it into the spotlight – not every seaside town has Tracey Emin to look after it. Tremors has a lot of very gentle humour in it but is occasionally a little too worthy for its own good.
Review by Terry Eastham
Tremors by Tim Cook
Tom Crowe, a rising star of the Labour party, is thrown into a political scandal after an incident in a hotel room. Seeking to rebuild his image, he returns to his seaside hometown of Eastbourne to make amends. But what he finds there is even more disturbing – a fractured community on the verge of imploding, besieged by vandalism and rioting. Ultimately, he must decide what’s more important – his career or the future of the community he left behind.
Tremors, the latest play from award-winning playwright Tim Cook, has its world premiere at the King’s Head Theatre in London. Tremors is an urgent new play about integrity and the true cost of fighting for what you believe in. It marks the return of Royal Court Young Writer Cook to the King’s Head Theatre following 2015’s production of Crushed.
Directed by Paul Macauley
25th-26th June & 2nd-3rd July (7.00pm)
King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN.