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Coalition
Published on Saturday, 11 August 2012
3

3 stars

Pleasance Dome (venue website)
Theatre
1-12, 14-26 Aug, 2:00pm-3:30pm
Reviewed by Jane Bristow

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Recently the cracks within the UK’s two-party government have been getting pretty serious - in the last week alone there’s been a bust-up due to the Tories refusing to reform the House of Lords, with the Liberal Democrats responding by battling constituency border changes. So a satirical play about the breakdown of the coalition seems incredibly well-timed, and that’s just what Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky have written. Overall there were some pertinent points and witty comments, but not as many as I had hoped for.

The plot of Coalition centres around Matt Cooper, a Nick Clegg-esque Deputy Prime Minister who, once the darling of the Lib Dems, is now frantically trying to stop the ‘Cerberus of a government’ from collapsing – using any means necessary. It becomes obvious that his motivation is that he’s desperate to cling onto as much power as possible, no matter what the cost is. Cooper’s main method involves compromising on fundamental aspects of Lib Dem ideology in the hope that the Tories will allow some favours. The problem with this arrangement is that it needs an equal relationship between the two parties… which clearly doesn’t exist.

The satire certainly runs strong throughout, with a string of one-liners such as when Cooper is accused of ‘putting the ‘n’ in cuts’. There’s also a disgruntled party member who quotes from the Lib Dem manifesto, a fact that Cooper fails to notice, drawing an enthusiastic response from the audience. The minor role the Prime Minister plays is also clever – showing just how far from power Cooper is drifting.

Despite all of these efforts this is no The Thick of It, and I ended up with the feeling that Coalition is far less subtle and in fact a lot less entertaining in delivering its political point. Cooper is at the heart of the issue – the larger-than-life character as played by Thom Tuck lacks sympathetic qualities, and there is no evidence that he cares that he’s comprised principles to survive. When he inevitably gets betrayed by one of his own party – someone who, to be honest, just seems a far better option – it’s not as moving as it could be. Likewise, when he sacrifices a principled colleague he just comes across as a bit horrendous.

Still, it has an impressive cast, and the wonderfully understated Jo Caulfield and enjoyably camp Tory manifestation of Phil Jupitus keep things from falling apart too much. The play might not be flawless, but it’s saved by the fact that the deep mistrust and elaborate machinations of the two parties are totally believable. It successfully questions the fundamental flaws of a coalition government, and attempts to address the contradictions involved in an appropriately amusing way.

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