‘A Walk on Part’ @ The Soho Theatre

Chris Mullin’s diaries on the fall of New Labour brought to the stage.

It may seem an unlikely subject for a night’s theatrical entertainment but A Walk On Part, Michael Chaplin’s adaptation and distillation of Chris Mullin’s political diaries is funny, absorbing and cracks along at a terrific pace.

John Hodgkinson’s portrayal brings Chris Mullin’s honesty, humanity and self-effacing wit to bear on the follies, mistakes and, to Mullin’s mind at least, the successes of the New Labour years. The audience are guided from the heady days of May 1997’s landslide election victory to the fall of New Labour in 2010 by way of 9/11, George W. Bush, WMD, the Iraq war, MPs’ expenses and the financial crisis as Mullin progresses from backbencher to junior minister and back again.

The other four members of the cast – Sara Powell, Tracy Gillman, Hywel Morgan and Jim Kitson – between them bring to life a vast number of characters ranging from ‘JP’ (John Prescott) to ‘The Man’ (Tony Blair) and Clare Short to Mullin’s wife, Ngoc. Some of the impressions are spot on: the audience particularly enjoyed a demonstration of how long it takes for a smile to get from Gordon Brown’s brain to his lips.

A Walk On Part does not just concentrate on events in Westminster but is peppered with the less glamorous concerns of a constituency MP (Sunderland South) as well as providing touching vignettes from family life including Mullin’s wife’s observation that he’ll need more than one suit when he becomes Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (whew!).

Staging, by Max Roberts, is simple but effective. A screen at the back of the stage flashes up iconic images such as the planes smashing into the twin towers and key dates to keep us anchored in the story’s timeline. The other cast members weave in and out of John Hodgkinson’s performance seamlessly, making the whole seem effortless and shorter than its two hours.

Whatever you think of New Labour’s politics, A Walk On Part offers an insight, albeit an unfeasibly gentle one, to the Blair and Brown years as well as to the potentially more interesting character of Chris Mullin, himself.

For the performance, audience members are seated at tables, cabaret style and, while this may take some getting used to, it does not hinder enjoyment especially as there is a bar in the same room. All in all, a fun night out in a terrific venue.

Performances run until December 10th at 7:30pm with matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays at 2:30pm. There are no performances on Sundays. Tickets are generally £15 full price, £12.50 concessions (students, disabled, seniors, Westminster residents and unwaged) although some Fridays and Saturdays are £20 and £17.50 respectively and matinees are £12.50 full price and £10, concessions.

The Soho Theatre is at 21 Dean Street |Only 20-minutes walk from Birkbeck.

[Published initially 22/11/2011]


Carmel Shortall
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