It is worth noting that “The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson” was co-funded by Arts50, a scheme commissioned by Sky Arts to explore the notion of what it means to be British in the wake of Brexit. Of almost 1,000 entries, this was one of a shortlist of only 50 to receive funding. With achingly clever and perceptive black comedy writing by Jonathan Maitland and performances to match, it is not hard to see why.
As a teen I admired and enjoyed “Spitting Image” with its merciless lampooning of celebrities and politicians alike, and the play, with a cast including über-talented Steve Nallon resurrecting his spot on caricature of Maggie Thatcher, was like Spitting Image brought to life.
This, coupled with Will Barton’s superb realisation of bumbling Boris, somewhat of a “guilty crush” we cannot help but warm to in the same way as many watch “Towie” (rather improbably referenced here as a guilty viewing pleasure of Michael Gove, played comically as a dislikeable, oily turncoat by Dugald Bruce-Lockheart) makes for a most entertaining and laugh out loud comedic evening.
Tim Wallers gives us ingenious (and take no prisoners) impersonations of Huw Edwards, Tony Blair and Evening Standard boss Evgeny Lebedev (the latter in particular with his endless name dropping, an endless figure of fun) and Arabella Weir makes an unexpectedly good ghost of Winston Churchill, with all his pomposity and rousing speeches. They are ably supported by intelligent and empathetic actress Davina Moon, the “straight woman” of the piece, as Marina Wheeler and Caitlin respectively.
Act 1 is an artistic licence of the factual account of the dinner party in February 2016, at which Boris purportedly decided to lead the fatal “Leave” Campaign while Act 2 (set in 2029) gives us a glimpse into the imagined future of Boris and his cohorts and where we, as a country, post Brexit, go from here.
It is at this point really that the comedy of the evening gives way to a feeling of sickness and uneasy despair as you realise that these ridiculous people, despite their comic foibles, with their gluttonous and unwavering lust for power, have potentially screwed us all for years to come. It is hard to reconcile our good natured sighs at Boris with all his flowery language and “isms” with the inescapable feeling of dread shared by us all in this time of political and national turmoil that may very well not exist were it not for the actions of him and his cronies.
The irony was not lost that the play ends with the set literally falling down around Boris’s ears; symbolic perhaps of both the country and political system going to pot in the wake of Brexit and that fateful dinner party over three years ago.