Charlie Dupré’s Boris Rex (following on from 2017’s MacBlair) is a Shakespearean-esque look at the rise, the fall and inevitable rise of Britain’s new Prime Minister. Luke Theobald plays Boris Johnson with all bluster and entitlement you’d expect. Johnson isn’t so much a powerful king, popular with his people but a pawn in Jacob Rees-Mogg (played with sinisterness it deserves by Dupré) who has nothing but contempt for his fellow Conservatives and Europeans so decides to shake up the status quo.
The play describes it self as a cross between Julius Caesar and Richard III. I am not as au fait with Shakespeare as some, though I have seen both of these but this reminded me more of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play about a despot leader and more specifically Simon Stephen’s adaptation; The Trial of Ubu directed by Katie Mitchell in 2012. I wondered in Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s direction has been inspired by it.
Johnson isn’t quite as despot leader stage yet but this production is at its strongest when it focuses on Johnson’s predecessors; Tony Blair a populist who couldn’t please all the people all the time such as his ability to adapt his favourite song depending on his audience, David Cameron (played by Henry Buckman); a populist who couldn’t please all the people all time, didn’t know his football team and is portrayed here as a man who brought chaos and simply didn’t care and Theresa May (Lydia Cashman), unpopular, probably cared too much but was unable to show it.
Initially I was concerned about this production; the delivery was too fast, jokes fell flat but it significantly improved. Theobald never felt like caricature and his monologues in particular were engaging and the writing went beyond the usual buffoonery of the man. Johnson is portrayed as a man who believes he deserves the best job and who often struggles to prove that to others but he is also conflicted, does he want to be Churchill or Thatcher? Dupré as Jacob Rees-Mogg is the highlight; an inexplicable king maker it only reinforced the bafflement I have for his role in society.
The most moving scene is between Cashman and Buckley as Samantha and David Cameron, as reveals her dream that the referendum will be his end. Cashman playing it like a considerate Lady Macbeth who wants to steer him away from trouble rather than into it and Buckley playing it with indifference and lack of due care we came to know from Cameron’s leadership.
There is an interesting ending involving an ancient Jeremy Corbyn that felt highly plausible. There may come a time where Johnson’s premiership is too painful to contemplate, even in fiction, but Charlie Dupré’s work is a lot of fun with a serious message about what happens when we elect leaders because they seem like fun idiots. I look forward to their work on whoever our next PM is.