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Whipping It Up
The Original Review by Lizzie Loveridge
It is just before Christmas in 2008 and the Conservative government have a slender majority of just three. That means that every vote in the chamber could lead to a loss with a subsequent vote of no confidence in the government or a call for the party leader to be replaced. The Whips Office has the job of getting the vote to turn out, organising pairing off with the opposition for those unable to show and emphasising the need for party loyalty from those wavering as to who they must vote for. The critical vote is on a bill to place a tax on trailers, tents and awnings which stay up for more than eight weeks and it has the boy scouts of England in an unlikely pairing with Traveller communities mounting a protest in Parliament Square.
The Whips Office has a staff of three, the Chief Whip (Richard Wilson) a hardened Tory of the old school with a brilliantly caustic turn of phrase who defines his role, "Whipping! Stare them straight in the eyes and demand the bastards comply!" He has a battery of such wonderful metaphors we can see what persuaded Richard Wilson to play the role. Then there's his deputy Alastair (Robert Bathurst), tall, handsome, thoroughly British, capable of great charm but with a python's instinct for the jugular. The new boy is Tim (Lee Ross) son of Tory benefactor and rather lower class in Conservative Party terms with the dubious morality of a market trader. Helen Schlesinger is maybe the ballsiest as the Labour Party's Whip, the formidable Delia who organises the Opposition.
The plot is quite intricate and in some ways the only weakness of Whipping It Up! I feel Thompson's stellar wit deserves a perfect frame. Interfering with the Tory majority are a back bench revolt, a woman journalist Maggie (Fiona Glascott) posing as a pretty political researcher who wants to dig out a scandal to sell papers, Delia's counter-skulduggery and the Tory leader's delay on his flight back from Washington.
The set is detailed. Commenting on the new occupants, Delia regrets the loss of her colour co-ordinated office accessories (she was the previous occupant). She describes it under Tory rule as a public school boy's dorm and she wonders where the boys have hidden the pornography! There is a large safe in which it is said that the whips store the most incriminating and sordidly persuasive materials with which to make sure a member votes for his party.
The performances are perfect. Bathurst as Alastair has a difficult first act with lots of interrupted dialogue which needs to flow and to allow the audience to laugh so his timing is all, and he is superb. I liked too Nicholas Rowe's rookie Member of Parliament, anxious to advance and yet retaining some principle. As Delia, in a role of the type I haven't seen her play before, Schlesinger excels and is a match for Alastair's war of obfuscation and accusations of witchcraft but it is Richard Wilson's sardonic, foul mouthed humour which steals the show. His voice manages to whine in the higher registers in a supercilious way and he has mastered the Tory drawl. His delivery is so good that if I were a BBC producer I would already be signing up Steve Thomson to write the television comedy series with the condition that Wilson joins the party.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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