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Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough at Park Theatre | Review

The cast of Hell Yes I'm Tough Enough at Park Theatre. Photo by Robert Workman
The cast of Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough at Park Theatre. Photo by Robert Workman.

A video clip did the rounds not so long ago of the Leader of the Opposition (at the time of writing), Jeremy Corbyn, addressing the House of Commons. “Last week… I was in Brussels, meeting with heads of government and leaders of European socialist parties, one of whom said to me…” At this point, he was heckled by a Conservative MP, who yelled, “Who are you?”, provoking hearty laughter from the Government benches and a wry smile from a Labour frontbencher directly next to Mr Corbyn. I laughed harder at that clip more than any of the punchlines in Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough, which seems to revel in character assassinations of politicians and party strategists, whatever their allegiance. This, then, is a production perhaps best enjoyed by people who believe that all politicians of all parties and none are simply terrible people.

The other running themes seemed to be sex and profanity, and when the ‘f’ word (no, not ‘Farage’) was used, both at the same time. There’s Nick Clog (James Bryant), who at least is an onstage character – others that are name-dropped include George Oblong, Vladimir Pubein, Jeremy Pacman and Lord Ainsworth (instead of Lord Ashcroft). This, presumably, keeps the legal teams of certain public figures at bay, though I wonder if it was strictly necessary: the West End production of the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon has been name-dropping Nigel Farage for some time now, for instance.

The challenge for political comedies such as this play, as the example I started with demonstrates, is that a fictional satire just might not be as riveting or as absurd as actual parliamentary proceedings and political manoeuvres, particularly following The Referendum That Shall Not Be Named (as I call it). There are more laughs to be had in the latest edition of Private Eye than there are in this production. There’s also about as much shouting, if not more, than there is on BBC Television’s Question Time – Glyniss (Annie Tyson), campaign manager for ‘The Blue Party’, is seldom subtle, even in a supposedly private conversation, and yet is quite happy to tell everyone else to ‘shut up’.

The cast do what they can with what they are given, but with such overly one-dimensional caricatures, it is difficult to maintain interest in a show whose characters are so thoroughly dislikeable. Perhaps that is what the play is trying to say – that there are too many people in both main parties that are only interested in fulfilling career ambitions and couldn’t give a (insert expletive) about the concerns of the electorate.

Corbz (Edward Halstead) is called ‘Jez’ by other characters, and is portrayed – wait for it – as the Grim Reaper with a mop spouting gibberish (the script suggests he is an Obi-Wan Kenobi type character, but that isn’t the impression I gained from the production). Some press night nerves crept in, resulting in some stumbling over lines, impacting on the delivery of punchlines, though I suspect these will ease up as the run progresses.

There were elements of brilliance, but it is noticeable that they occurred when the script decided to be momentarily serious. A strategy meeting is called immediately after the Ashcroft – sorry, Ainsworth – revelations about what the Prime Minister apparently got up to in his student days, and as they went through various options Glyniss, coffee girl Poppy (Venice Van Someren) and election consultant Patrick (Mikhail Sen) provided some intriguing insights into crisis management. Both party leaders make speeches that with meaning and noteworthy content, but they are too brief, and become overshadowed by sniping and yet more putdowns. As Groucho Marx apparently once said, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” It’s a pity there wasn’t a John Bercow-esque character to call them to order. And with all that sexual innuendo, there ought to have been a safe-word for audience members: “Enough”.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Political leaders Ned Contraband and David Carter ruthlessly battle it out to get into government. Whether it’s propaganda, ridicule, hacking, leaking, bullying, blackmail, coalition or negotiation – no tactic is too low. Which party has the best pitch? Who do we set up for failure? Why are we in this situation in the first place? And who is this peculiar janitor talking in riddles? One thing is clear: the system is very much broken. But who’s going to fix it?

The production stars Ben Hood, Michael Edwards, Cassandra Hercules, Edward Halsted, Venice Van Someren, Mikhail Sen, Annie Tyson, James Bryant and Ben Alderton.

CREATIVE TEAM
Ben Alderton – Writer
Roland Reynolds – Director
Isabella Van Braeckel – Designer
Alex Hopkins – Lighting Designer
Julian Starr – Sound Designer
Lewis Daniel – Composer
Annie Tayler – Producer

LISTINGS
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough
Venue: Park90, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 24 Apr – 18 May 2019
Age guidance: 18+

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