Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
Opened 25 September, 2007

It is either brave or foolhardy of Hampstead's artistic director Anthony Clark to programme Robin Soans' new verbatim play barely three months after Dennis Kelly's Taking Care Of Baby at the same address mimicked the verbatim form in order to indict our culture which both produces and consumes "reality" media material so voraciously. Soans' piece exhibits some of the traits exposed by Kelly. One becomes conscious of the interviewer, unseen and unheard on stage but evidently pushing a particular agenda; paradoxically, this is most palpable in a sequence in which several interviewees' remarks are interedited as a diatribe against celebrity culture.

There also seems to be some deliberate moral positioning of the portrayals of those involved, whether by Soans, director Clark or the actors. Of the numerous interviewees who experienced political, financial, sexual and/or criminal scandals, we are left in little doubt that we are intended to view former government minister and convicted perjurer Jonathan Aitken, as played by Philip Bretherton, as too pious to be true, or Charles and Diana Ingram (the former convicted of deception after winning the top prize on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) as pompous and unrepentant. Conversely, Tim Preece's Lord Montagu (imprisoned in 1954 for consensual homosexual sex) comes over as a paragon of agonised conscientiousness, and Michael Mears and Caroline Quentin as former "cash for questions" MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine are as disarming as their real-life originals in embracing their new role as "a pair of Butlin's Redcoats to the nation". Most tellingly, only the final 15-20 minutes of the two-and-a-half-hour play are actually about what the title claims: life after scandal. The main focus is on the accounts of the scandals themselves and the protagonists' comeuppances, judicial or otherwise.

Soans seems aware that there is less meat to this subject than his previous verbatim plays such as The Arab-Israeli Cookbook and Talking To Terrorists. He tries to counter this by adding some awkward musical extracts, and by including remarks from interviewees and some (possibly composite) "vox pop" characters about celebrity culture in general. But however real an issue this might be, it cannot avoid becoming the kind of artefact whereby such culture exalts itself rather than, as is intended, accusing.

[Footnote: Later that evening I got an e-mail from Christine Hamilton asking me what I'd thought; I gave a distilled version of the above, to which she replied that she had principally been outraged by an item of costume: "Neil's never worn a ready-made bow tie in his life!"]

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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