Last Temptation of Boris Johnson

Review - The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson at the Park Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

Actor Will Barton makes the ultimate personal sacrifice in this play: he has dyed his natural dark brown hair (as evidenced by a rehearsal photograph in the programme) bright canary yellow to look more like the title character of The Temptation of Boris Johnson.

Some might say that the British nation has made an even bigger sacrifice in indulging this shallow, vain man who always seems to put personal ambition before principles, the latter of which he seems to make up on the spot.

No, I'm not a fan. But journalist turned playwright Jonathan Maitland is more even-handed than I'd be in portraying him not just as the familiar buffoonish figure of fun but also a person who our collective failure to take more seriously may yet see him governing our country.

Though actually - spoiler alert - it is something that Maitland again places beyond his reach when the play moves forward in the second act to 2029, and Sir Boris (as he is by now) attempts another come-back.

The first act is based on an actual historical event: a dinner party at Johnson's house in 2016, the Tuesday night before Johnson decided to back Leave, with Gove and their respective wives joined by the Evening Standard's proprietor Evgeny Lebedev (who was supposed to bring Liz Hurley but who cancelled; now she can catch up on what she missed). There's not a lot here we don't know already, but Maitland spins an amiable comedy out of the scene, including Lebedev's endless name-dropping (and a very good gag about Helen Mirren winning an Evening Standard Drama Award at his behest - "it is my privilege" - which is also entirely based on fact).

But it also hints at darker psychological probings, as the ghost figures of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair variously appear to Johnson. These are the source of more delicious comedy, with Arabella Weir, Steve Nallon and Tim Wallers respectively giving hilarious voice and bearing to them.

The second act takes us into as yet unchartered territory: the future that all this may have taken us to - and a scheme that opportunist Johnson is now backing to take us back into the EU.

This isn't the first time that the ridiculously irksome Johnson has featured in a play: in 2005 Toby Young and Lloyd Evans (who at the time shared duties on The Spectator as theatre critics, then edited by Johnson) daringly wrote a play Who's the Daddy? about the backstage bedroom life of the magazine. This play is less of an insider hatchet-job, but wields its knives less brazenly.

Lotte Wakeham's fast and funny production is also formidably well acted, with Barton's BoJo matched in oily dislikability by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart's Michael Gove, Davina Moon and Arabella Weir as their respective wives (and other characters), and a particularly robust appearance by Steve Nallon as Margaret Thatcher - a role he also played in a previous Maitland play at this address Dead Sheep.

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson is at the Park Theatre to 8th June.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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