Plays about the plight of the Labour Party must be in vogue.
Last year James Graham’s comedy Labour of Love told the story of a right wing Labour MP and his left wing campaign manager. David Hare’s current play I’m Not Running has a similar premise but without the laughs.
Pauline Gibson (Sian Brooke) is a junior doctor, turned NHS campaigner, turned independent MP. Popular as a political outsider she weighs up whether to stand for leader of the Labour Party.
She clashes with Labour MP Jack Gould, (Alex Hassell) who is based on every young, careerist Blairite MP. Patronising, smug and entitled, he’s thoroughly unlikeable—and wholly convincing because of this.
That’s an achievement in a play where much of the dialogue is anything but convincing. And this is a very wordy play.
Characters don’t have conversations so much as deliver speeches at each other. It seems that no one can open their mouth without attempting to make a profound, philosophical reflection on the nature of politics, relationships or life itself.
In contrast to Gould, Gibson is someone who really wants to make a difference. If only a “real person” could take charge of Labour, maybe they could change things she wonders.
But she is not a Jeremy Corbyn stand-in.
Gibson is very pointedly the “respectable” face for “sensible” campaigns. An “outsider” adept at playing the insiders’ game. Popular, but not populist. In other words she is a Guardian columnists’ Labour leader.
There’s a lot of angst in this play. But it’s liberal angst that feels the centre ground collapsing beneath its feet.
At the National Theatre until 31 January
Go to bit.ly/NotRunning