Donmar Theatre, London
Having pushed digital and political boundaries with Privacy, their previous Donmar collaboration, Josie Rourke and James Graham have now broken further new ground with The Vote – a play whose opening night on May 7th coinciding with General Election night was also its final performance.
Broadcast from the Donmar in real time, in the last 90 minutes before polls closed on May 7th, it’s given a whole new meaning to `event theatre’. As befits an exercise in democracy, tickets were sold by ballot for a fortnight’s previews ensuring a healthy run-in for a cast numbering over 40 and including amongst its illuminati one Judi Dench alongside Timothy West, Bill Paterson, Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, Nina Sosanya, Paul Chahidi, Jackie Clune and a host of assisting others turned voters for the night.
The whole thing has been a wheeze from beginning to end, from the ballot to the invitation to vote prior to the performance, to the actual evening itself, not only making theatre/tv history (notwithstanding NT Live) but delivering a deliciously funny and clever political farce with a sure and steady message in its tail as to the real importance of ballot voting.
Graham and Rourke’s whole comic premise is centred around that black box and the regulations to ensure its legitimacy, free from fraud. In the event, fraud occurs, many times over, from a variety of sources, from Timothy West’s slowly dementing old geezer, Fred, to Catherine Tate’s dominatrix polling station staffer, Kirsty. Blissful is the only way to describe the conjurations Graham creates for Kirsty to drive a coach and horses through the regulations, watched by Gatiss’s Presiding Officer, Steven with restrained but mounting horror and Sosanya’s beautifully underplayed assistant, Laura.
The jokes and confusions come thick and fast as the witching hour approaches and whilst More4’s TwoFour company caught the evening’s theatrical immediacy nothing quite replicated the tension this viewer felt sitting in the theatre watching the minutes – even on a matinee performance – slowly ticking down. The tension on the night must have been enormous. No wonder the final tv shots showed an audience erupting on their feet. A brilliant coup de theatre brilliantly executed.
First published in Reviewsgate, May 2015