Jonathan’s Maitland’s timely comedy THE LAST TEMPTATION OF BORIS JOHNSON has all the makings of a compelling political satire but soon runs out of steam
Jonathan Maitland’s timely comedy THE LAST TEMPTATION OF BORIS JOHNSON broke box office records during its run at London’s Park Theatre in spring last year. The political satire captured the feelings of a nation, uncertain of its future in the wake of Brexit. Almost 12 months on, the smash-hit play heads out on a UK tour with a stop at Salford’s The Lowry.
Flashing back to events in February 2016, the first act of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF BORIS JOHNSON takes place during the infamous dinner party in which fellow MP Michael Gove, the journalist Sarah Vine, Johnson’s ex-wife Marina Wheeler and Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the Evening Standard, gather together in Johnson’s Islington home to press the host into making a decision about Europe.
Fast forward to post-Brexit Britain 2029 and act two imagines a future where Johnson is no longer in power, the former Prime Minister roaming the political wilderness until unexpected events see him back in the spotlight and with a chance to “make Britain great again”.
On the surface, Maitland’s story has all the makings of a compelling political satire – a fast-paced plot with plenty of clever plot twists, a humorous script full of witty gags and a small, yet talented cast who capture the essence of the politicians perfectly with their quick quips and false smiles.
As Boris Johnson, Will Barton delivers a perfectly plausible imitation of the British Prime Minister, capturing the brooding seriousness of the man behind the clown façade, capturing the broken rhythms of his blustery speech and tactically messing up his hair, displacing his tie and rumpling his shirt before TV interviews.
There is good support from Bill Champion as Michael Gove, Emma Davies as Sarah Vine and Tim Wallers as Huw Edwards, but the best of the comedy comes from their ghostly performances as a larger-than-life Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair respectively.
Yet, while THE LAST TEMPTATION OF BORIS JOHNSON remains amusing for a while, this political satire soon runs out of steam. Instead of examining the flawed figure beneath the clownish persona, Maitland chooses to riff on Johnson’s love of Latin and his propensity for womanising to deliver a comical portrayal of the politician yet one which offers little in the way of insight or analytical wit.
That said, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF BORIS JOHNSON has a few good gags and its futuristic second half sharply improves proceedings. It’s also one of the fastest-moving plays I’ve seen, the script updated nightly (if necessary) to reflect current events and recent political circumstances.
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF BORIS JOHNSON runs at The Lowry, Salford until 7 March 2020.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.