wed 11/12/2019

Farragut North, Southwark Playhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Farragut North, Southwark Playhouse

Farragut North, Southwark Playhouse

Max Irons and Rachel Tucker play dirty in Beau Willimon's drama of political shenanigans

Max Irons as Stephen Bellamy, spinning diabolically© Robert Workman

They’re eating out of the palm of his hand. Or so he thinks. Stephen Bellamy is a spin doctor, only 25 years old but already a hotshot in American electioneering. At the off, in Beau Willimon’s fictionalised drama about modern-day Machiavels, Bellamy is presuming to manipulate the press, in Iowa's primary, with hubristic confidence. Two Democratic presidential candidates are going head-to-head. It's Morris versus Pullman and, in order to keep Morris leading in the polls, Bellamy and his boss – the campaign manager, Paul Zara – are about to dish some dirt on Pullman, without any qualms.

In director Guy Unsworth’s off-West End production, Bellamy (Max Irons, from BBC One’s The White Queen) is also congratulating himself on a deal struck with a spiky, influential journalist named Ida Horowicz (Rachel Tucker, from I’d Do Anything and Wicked, pictured below left). He has promised her scoops in return for a flattering profile of Zara (Shaun Williamson, pictured below right). However, the smug whizz-kid has underestimated the scheming of his foes as well as – within his own team – the ramifications of treachery.

Shaun Williamson in Farragut North at Southwark Playhouse © Robert WorkmanIf this scenario is ringing a bell, of the déjà vu variety, that’s because Farragut North is the play that, after running on Broadway in 2008, formed the basis of George Clooney’s 2011 movie, The Ides of March. Although theatregoers who have watched the film may be surprised by divergences in the storyline, chunks of the dialogue are the same.

On seeing the stage version, one realizes that Willimon’s plot twists are as baroque as those of Jacobean revenge dramas. And some are crafty. The dialogue, by comparison, seems bald. Perhaps this impression is exacerbated by the relative paucity and stasis of Unsworth’s settings, the drama being played out on a slightly drab, low-budget set with office lighting overhead, a grey chequered carpet and chair-bound meetings (the set design is by David Woodhead).

Rachel Tucker in Farragut North, Southwark Playhouse ©Robert WorkmanThe exchanges are obviously supposed to be hardboiled and punchy most of the time, yet they lapse into the corny. Farragut North was, apparently, inspired by Willimon’s own experiences of political campaigning, but this revival is not strikingly topical right now, and the cast are often straining to pump up the tension. In particular, Williamson’s gravelly-voiced, overemphatic bullishness can become monotonous.

That said, his Zara ices over alarmingly, and the ensemble's American accents are commendable (with Nicholas Trumble on board as their dialect coach). Irons’s press night performance was fractionally stilted, his affair with the smiling intern, Aysha Kala’s Molly, needing to convey more sexual chemistry. He is probably one to watch, nevertheless. Meanwhile, Josh O’Connor really steals the show as Ben, the new boy on Zara’s team: amusingly gangly and timid; scribbling away in his notebook like a geek; but maybe not as cute as he seems. I bet he goes far.

Willimon’s plot twists are as baroque as those of Jacobean revenge dramas

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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