The play is set at The Cecilienhof Palace, Potsdam, July 1945. Clement Attlee ( Alec McCowen) has just won the General Election for the Labour Party and is in Potsdam for a conference with Stalin and Truman to decide the future of Germany. Also here is the famous journalist Tom Drilberg (Michael Gambon), an homosexual and far left newly-elected Labour MP. By chance, they both meet for the first time when Clem comes in to the press room just as Tom is about to do something sexual under the table to a Russian soldier, Alexei (Daniel de la Falaise). Of course this meeting never took place, it is Churchett view of what it might have been like if they had !
The play does not go too in-depth with the issues of the day, which surprised me a little because I was expecting a lot of deep conversations between them. Instead , Churchett concentrates on the characters . A lot is made of Tom’s homosexuality, in a very light way though and in no way bad. In fact almost celebrating it!
The brilliant Michael Gambon as ‘Tom’, is a sensation. To me he is one of the best British actors on stage. He can play any part, serious or funny, he totally mesmerises you with his wonderful voice and brilliant facial expressions. It is worth the ticket price just to see him.
Michael is not the only great performer in this drama, all performed well. Alec McCowen is a great ‘Clem’, he looks and feels just like the man who is warm and compassionate. It was Attlee’s Labour Party that Nationalised the main service industry in Britain and created the National Health Service. Daniel de la Falaise is convincing as a Red Army Captain, who is torn between loyalty to his country, but seeking asylum to Britain to escape what he believes will be a tortured state under Stalin back home. The fourth member of the cast is Sarah Woodman who plays ‘Kitty’ a civil servant who makes sure everything runs smoothly for the Prime Minister. She is also a great friend of Tom, with both having bets we each other to see who can get off with the handsome soldiers first. Tom usually wins!
The show has received some mixed reviews, most critics note the lack of any serious story , but most agree that the performances of Gambon and McCowen are superb. NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says “ Impure farce rather than serious drama.....Michael Gambon’s riveting Tom Drilberg......McCowen’s gorgeously laconic Premier”. The INDEPENDANT says “ ...reasonably entertaining, reasonably thought-provoking and unreasonably derivative...the excellent Alec McCowen let’s you see the passionate humanity that lies behind Attee’s comically prim, pernickety facade... Gambon puts on a fine display of sophisticatedly raffish fleshliness”.
While the story could have been a little stronger with the issues and ideas of the men being more exploited, it is still a very good play with lots of witty, amusing dialogue topped with some of the best acting you’ll find on the London Stage at the moment.