Review by Joe Moss
“The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson”, currently playing at the Park Theatre, is a rollicking political comedy which leaves the audience in stitches. There is some political analysis but this is not really a heavy play about serious political ideas, despite its peek into a possible future, this is a topical play rather than one written for posterity and is above all funny. Based partly on the 2016 leadership contest, and partly in a future 2029 post-Brexit equivalent, what this play does is offer interesting perspectives on power and why politicians want it and create comic scenes worthy of top sitcoms in the process.
Your political ideas are not really important here, plenty to laugh about here at both former major parties and surreal Banquoesque scenes with political giants living and dead only add hilarity to the situation. Perhaps some will argue that politics, especially those relating to unresolved current affairs, needs to be dealt with more seriously. Some of the critics who have scoffed at this play are, I think, suffering from this unfortunate misconception. I say tosh to that, some of the worst politicians in history are the self-important prigs who have no sense of humour.
Will Barton is a physically lightweight Boris, but he has the voice, mannerisms and unkempt look down to a t. Tim Wallers has some excellent cameos but his turn as Lebedev the self-important, vain, name-dropping owner of the Standard (which astonishingly gives the play a poor review) is outrageously good. His Tony Blair ain’t half-bad either. It would be churlish to refrain from commending the entire cast – and the writer as well. Maitland has written a play which like his earlier “An Evening With Jimmy Saville” does rely rather a lot on actors being able to impersonate well-known figures convincingly but where “An Evening” was dark this is riotous, it manages to make great comedy out of Brexit, whichever side of the divide one might be.
By drumming up the ghosts of politicians past Maitland hints at the continuity of political arguments, going back to the immediate postwar period to remind us of Churchill’s advocacy of a United States of Europe – although he is, presumably intentionally, incorrect in claiming wanted to be the President of such a state. In fact Churchill thought Great Britain should be outside the USE. Maitland also seems to be suggesting, even if it is for comedic purposes, that political ideas come full circle as the ironic denouement of the play portrays.
But I would not spend too much time on the finer political detail of this piece, it is simply great comedy. As one of the characters revived here said: “Rejoice! Just rejoice!”.
The Last Temptation of Boris is on until 8 June https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-last-temptation-of-boris-johnson