Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Vote (2015)


James Graham and Josie Rourke's play The Vote was a truly topical production for both theatre and television; broadcast live from the Donmar Warehouse on May 7th, election night on More4 at 8.25pm, a suitable boost to the spirits before the realities of what lay ahead!

The Vote plays out in real time dealing with the frantic and farcical last 90 minutes in a key London marginal's polling station - a primary school gym at any other time of the year. Mark Gatiss, Catherine Tate and Nina Sosanya man the desks of democracy to ensure that the electoral rules are obeyed to the letter but the eccentricity of the system, combined with the potential for mishap and disaster soon make their civic duty a troublesome one.



It all starts with the wonderful Timothy West's bumbling old fogey who appears to have voted twice. Assuming that he has voted for the Conservatives thanks to a 'Labour isn't working' quip that harks back to the infamous '79 Saatchi and Saatchi ad campaign for Thatcher, the frenetic loose lipped Tate attempts make amends and even the score by persuading first her reluctant husband and then her son to cast their votes for Labour. But the harebrained scheme only further sinks her, Sosanya and a beautifully twitchy Gatiss into the mire. 



Graham, who has form here with both Channel 4's slightly disappointing Coalition and the brilliant stage play This House, continues to show his understanding of the hazards and peculiarities of the democratic process by way of a plethora of characters who wander in off the street to do their duty, including a mother and daughter who share the same name and cause chaos played by real life mother and daughter Judi Dench and Finty Williams, a drunk who wants to take his ballot paper back to the pub to think it over and first time voters who ask their phone apps who to vote for. 



It's a large and lavishly famous cast, one in which the old stalwarts of the theatrical world in particular shine, including the aforementioned Timothy West and Judi Dench and Bill Paterson as a disgruntled Scottish caretaker who manages to crack a euphoric smile and a renewed passion for democracy when he learns he has a new granddaughter named, of course, Nicola (yes, as in Sturgeon) But there's also some great performances from the likes of a neurotic Paul Chahidi as an obsessive candidate whose single issue relates to his fanatical opposition to the borough’s one-way system and many more, including our key trio of leads. There's even a totally unexpected and very funny brief cameo from Jude Law - funny because it is precisely so brief! It does occasionally feel like an extended Comic Relief sketch, but there's enough observational humour and comment to lift it above the 'Oh look it's...' fest that it could have easily become for the armchair audiences at home.



Graham's play may not be anything new (Jack Rosenthal wrote an equally astute and far less madcap episode of the 1974 ITV series Village Hall which concerned itself with the titular establishment serving as a polling station) but it is a delightful farce that shows a real fondness for our perverse little political system and that, despite the instances of petty fraud on display, it is shot through with an integrity that makes it all work.



Ultimately, whilst this isn't a patch on the aforementioned episode of Village Hall from the pen of Rosenthal, this did manage to cheer me up a little after the horrors of that result.

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