The realm of British Political Satire is dominated by the shadows cast by two brilliant, scathing comic Leviathans: whip-smart 1980s sitcom Yes (Prime) Minister and, more recently, Armando Iannuci’s scabrous beast The Thick of It. With those two shows setting the standard so very, very high, it is especially impressive that Coalition, new satirical play from writing team Robert Khan and Tom Kalinsky, manages to assert both its own identity and, indeed, pride of place, in the British Political Satire kingdom.
The year is 2014, and the coalition government between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats is 6 months away from a new election. Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matt Cooper (Thom Tuck) is growing increasingly frantic in his efforts to shore up support from within his own party prior to the election. However, this being politics, dubious decisions are made, and when Cooper throws his full support behind a new nuclear energy initiative, his lackies and subservients start laying plots of their own . . .
The play is deliciously, rather than diabolically, plotted: the plot twists are cause more for gasps and giggles, than the hands-in-front-of-eyes incredulous horror other British political satire inspires. It is a credit to writers Khan and Kalinsky that you are never lost in the murky quagmire of political machinations. Although the story has twists and turns, it is always perfectly clear who is trying to out-fox who. The language in particular is a witty, literate treat, littered with wry asides about Faustus, Macbeth, and Kruschev. Gags come thick and fast, and are steeped in political history: when Cooper discovers he is leading by half a percent in an exit poll, he falls to his knees with plaintive cry: “I’m trapped in my own private Florida Hell!” The play is also an equal opportunity offender, attacking the Lib Dems and Tories with equal glee.
Such a script would be wasted were it not played by a talented troupe of actors, and Coalition is blessed with performances that ensure the dialogue fizzes with comic energy. Thom Tuck (of the erstwhile Penny Dreadfuls) anchors the play with a brilliant turn, perfectly pitched midway between Rowan Atkinson at his most arch and David Cameron at his most tit-ish. He clearly relishes spitting out lines about his constituents: “one of them asked me if I enjoyed putting the n in cuts.” Arguably the biggest name in the cast, Phil Jupitus plays against type as an oily dandy and Machiavellian puppet-master, Sir Francis Whitford. His is the only performance that never quite convinces, although you can see what he is trying to achieve, with his camp delivery and careful supping of Bolly. Jo Caulfield is delectably caustic as the withering Lib Dem chief whip, while Phil Mulryne threatens to run away with the entire show in a manic, wide-eyed turn as Matt Cooper’s nice-but-dim political protege.
The Liberal Democrats are a particularly easy target for satire, and certainly there are no digs here that are revelatory. But is that necessary for a political satire? Here is a blazingly funny, well-observed, enthusiastically acted spot of theatre. It’s not as ridiculous as the realities of British politics but then these days, what is?
COALITION is performed at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at The Pleasance Queen Dome at 2:00pm, 1‑26 August (not 13th). Full Price Tickets £13.50-£14.50 depending on dates.