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A CurtainUp London Review
Life After Scandal
Major Charles Ingram (Simon Coates) was a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire who was tried for cheating. The accusation was that an accomplice in the audience "coughed" on cue to feed him the answers. His wife Diana (Geraldine Fitzgerald) describes the embarrassment of how it is impossible to go into their village shop without schoolchildren breaking into coughing fits.
Neil Hamilton (Michael Mears) was a Tory MP who was a part of the "Cash for Questions" scandal. He and his battleaxe wife Christine (Caroline Quentin) took on the owner of Harrods, Mohammed Al Fayed, and went bankrupt trying to deny that Hamilton received payment for asking questions in the House of Commons that would favour Al Fayed's interests. Since then the Hamiltons have made a seedy, media career for themselves in reality television, all the while denying any culpability in the affair.
Lord Montague (Tim Preece) cuts a more poignant figure as a member of the aristocracy prosecuted and sent to prison under now defunct laws against homosexuality. Edwina Currie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) is very amusing as she recounts the aftermath of her affair with the then Prime Minister John Major.
But the star of the show for me was the Tory MP Jonathan Aitken (Philip Bretherton) whose account of life behind bars when he succeeds in winning over his fellow prisoners is witty and captivating. A highlight of the play is his description of the camaraderie of fellow prisoners cornering a man who broke into prison with the aim of getting a story about the disgraced ex MP for the gutter press. Into the mix is thrown a paparazzi cameraman, a Guardian journalist and two women members of the public who pass comment on those who have since made themselves celebrity careers on television games shows.
The Hamiltons and Ingrams are still in denial despite the evidence to the contrary. In fact on opening night, true to their new found celebrity status, Christine and Neil Hamilton and Charles Ingram brazened it out and were there in the flesh to see themselves played onstage. The imposing Christine Hamilton tells us that she is happier as a "media butterfly" and that she is grateful to be a "gay icon" but that Neil is frustrated not to have a political career.
The performances are tip top. I especially liked Caroline Quentin's plummy Christine and Michael Mears' henpecked, sidekick Neil but Tim Preece is touching as Lord Montague a man who has succeeded in his ambition to be known for his magnificent museum collection of vintage motor cars rather than for going to prison for homosexuality.
The set has large marble pillars of an established but anonymous West End hotel with leather sofas and sometimes is played in a restaurant. Anthony Clark's experience as a director shows and the whole is a slickly amusing evening but I was left with a small voice questioning its value as theatre. Why does their story have to be told on stage? Could it not just as well have been televised? David Leigh (Bruce Alexander) makes the closing point, "These cases where people in the public eye are elevated and then dragged down and torn to pieces by the crowd are all theatre. . . . .a rather unpleasant form of theatre. Life After Scandal isn't an unpleasant form of theatre, but scandal is a nasty business.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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