mon 15/04/2024

Blair's Children, Cockpit Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Blair's Children, Cockpit Theatre

Blair's Children, Cockpit Theatre

A withering new play about the PM's legacy from five authors

TB or not TB: Blairites (or maybe not) assemble to assess our onetime leaderKim Hardy

What kind of legacy will the Blair years lave on ordinary people? Some predictable answers but also some unexpected, haunting personal accounts emerge in a drama inspired by the spectacularly successful 1974 play Kennedy's Children from American actor-playwright Robert Patrick. 

Written for five characters in fragmented but interlinking monologues, Kennedy's Children caught all the thrill, madness, and contingent loss of innocence of the 1960s when the world seemed to turn on its axis. (The cast of its maiden London outing at the King's Head included Pat Starr and Deborah Norton.) And a similar stardust of expectation also settled, mistakenly, over Blair's election in 1997. "Things can only get better," promised D:Ream in New Labour's adopted anthem which, with conscious irony, closes Blair's Children.

Vlatco in Blair's Children at the Cockpit TheatreA first commission by Cockpit Theatre artistic director Dave Wybrow as an attempt to bring a fresh radical critique to contemporary issues (the venue is part of City of Westminster College), Blair's Children, alas, doesn't quite carry the same elan as its illustrious forebear to which Wybrow pays generous homage. (Wybrow has also doubled as the text's dramaturg and editor.) And the fact is, times is different: the Sixties were the crucible of civil rights advancement, which helped Kennedy's Children fly off the pen of just one man in an almost white-hot stream-of-consciousness.

Blair's Children, by contrast, is the child of five different, and very fine, writers: Anders Lustgarten, Paula B Stanic, Georgia Fitch, April de Angelis, and Mark Norfolk. Like its predecessor, the current play vigorously captures and evokes a particular moment of transition by using a tapestry of diverse voices. Lustgarten's blunt uncompromising Glaswegian, Maggie (Caroline Guthrie), the spine of the piece, speaks perhaps for all old traditional Lefties when she concludes: "What Blair did, at the cost of a million lives, 10 wasted years, and the cultural death of the left... is to finally free us from waiting for someone else to provide the answer. To make us do it ourselves." No more looking to heroic leaders.  

Maggie's bitter tone is echoed throughout. Stanic's Vlatco (played by Christopher Patrick Nolan, pictured above), a Serbian asylum seeker and migrant worker, arrives in 1995 with a hope that steadily turns to disillusionment after Blair's later Balkan intervention. Even de Angelis's Jennifer (Rosie Armstrong), the most optimistic and upwardly mobile of the speakers - a New Labour loyalist from a working-class estate who "made it" and is happy to list Blair's achievements - can't conceal her doubts and ends on a furious call to arms to her high-achieving niece: "You need to join us. To stop us ,,, don't let us do it to you again." 

Michele Butterly in Blair's ChildrenNorfolk's young black offender speaks, in rich gangsta patois, of his mum's idolisation of Blair prior to Iraq, but it is Maggie, whose army son is murdered in an Iraqi ambush, and Fitch's Marie, a brilliant white single mum and social worker whose son converts to Islam, who linger most in the mind. In the latter role, Michelle Butterly (pictured above) simply wrings the withers, describing the night her son, Ash, disappeared from her life. 

Ultimately, Charlotte Westenra's production in the unadorned Cockpit, the set suggestive of a faceless coffee bar chain, lacks visual impact, but such is the cocktail of emotions and unfolding journeys captured by Blair's Children's writers and performers that it becomes a moving epitaph to loss - a wretched legacy of Blair's Britain.

What Blair did, at the cost of a million lives, 10 wasted years, and the cultural death of the left... is to finally free us from waiting for someone else to provide the answer


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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