Theatre Review - 'Loyalty'

Posted by Alexander Hay

Ex-Downing Street insider Sarah Helm's new play on the eve of the Iraq War misses a golden opportunity to satirise this most controversial of recent conflicts

War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Hear it again...

The personal and the political become intertwined in Sarah Helm’s disappointing debut play Loyalty, directed by Edward Hall, at the Hampstead Theatre.

In the weeks leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the pressure on the UK government to commit to joining the American cause was escalating. With the crisis coming to a head, in one Stockwell household, writer Laura and her long term partner Nick, Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff, struggle to protect their relationship as Nick attempts to guide Blair through one of the greatest controversies of our time.

On one hand this play is an account of how a relationship based on deep mutual understanding and respect somehow coped with the most impossible strains, while on the other hand it provides an account of what it felt to be living with the daily agonies of deciding to invade Iraq and then finding out that the original justification for the war – that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction – did not exist and had been based on false intelligence.

Playwright and journalist Sarah Helm was an opponent of the war and wife of Tony Blair’s then Chief of Staff, and here draws from her own experience, describing it as a “fictionalised memoir”. But, although raising the question as to what exactly constitutes loyalty and what happens when loyalty conflicts, the play offers no new or revealing insight into what has already become an over familiar subject.

Politically sensitive chat combines with domestic and everyday malaise. World leaders exchange important, unprotected information on regular phone calls, ear-splitting alarms are set off, and characters rush around in near states of panic. There are flickers of a touching humanity, but too many scenes strain plausibility.

As a satire on government deceit, the play lacks the necessary biting wit, although there are some good gags, mainly at the expense of Blair. Furthermore, despite references to Rupert Murdoch, a golden opportunity is missed to introduce an element of topicality.

The ever-reliable Maxine Peake, addressing the audience directly with a commentary on proceedings as the fictitious Laura, gives us some idea of what it is like to be in a political relationship during times of stress, but Lloyd Owen is rather wooden as Nick and Patrick Baladi manages to sound like Blair but there the resemblance ends.

Sadly, despite its initial promise, this play gets no nearer the truth than all the extensive coverage on television, in books, films and verbatim drama that has already preceded it.

Runs until August 13.

Press: Cliona Roberts for CRPR 0207 704 6224

Box office: 0207 722 9301

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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