Steve Thompson‘s Whipping It Up is intended as a caustic and biting satire of Westminster life, and the script pretty much fits the bill. With most of the cast and crew fresh from their first terms in Oxford, the performance is not wanting in enthusiasm; it is clear that great energy has been expended on the piece. It remains only to evaluate the result.
First impressions are telling, and attention is at once drawn to this production’s rather wonderful set design. It is clear that no corners have been cut, and – whilst nothing too extraordinary is required to simulate an office environment – attention to detail is by no means lacking. The décor recalls many a college room; replete with Star Wars posters, an ostentatious bookshelf (the Latin dictionary and Jack Straw’s autobiography rub nervous shoulders), champagne bottles and McDonald’s wrappings, it sets a tasteful scene for Thompson’s old boys’ club. A couple of JCRs have presumably been raided in full, and the effect is impressive. And such a scene is not let down by the play’s opening: punchy dialogue from the Deputy Whip (Conor Robinson) and rebellious young MP Guy (Ben Dovey) capture attention from the off.
Robinson pulls off a pretty convincing Scottish accent, and on the whole gives a credible performance as an aspiring Tory politician: we experience his troubles as immediately as he does, and for the most part, his lines are sharp and quick. The occasional chemistry with his opposition number, Delia (Emily Troup) is well done, although this is certainly due in part to Troup’s confident, humorous delivery. A pinch of her icy sarcasm would not go amiss in some of the other characters.
Similarly, Dovey does nervous very accurately, although this anxiety occasionally strays into his delivery and there is indubitably room for development of his character – but the contrast between this awkwardness and his one angry tirade serves him well. The play is arguably carried, however, by Josh Dolphin in his role as Tim. A brash, confident junior whip, Tim is determined to forge his way into the world of politics – with the aid of an acerbic wit and an abundance of sarcasm. Dolphin’s character is undeniably the most exciting of the Whip trio: his persona is brought alive with carefully cultivated idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, but never quite to the extent that it is overplayed. His crafty manipulation of Guy is fun to look out for, and there is a genuine joy to be taken in his swearing and cocky boasts.
This does not ring quite as true for our Chief Whip (Christian Kinnersly). The role is undoubtedly a challenging one: the very, very Tucker-esque Chief has innumerable tirades of obscenities and pithy one-liners to deliver, all of which must be done quickly and furiously. Kinnersly is undeniably composed, but this rigidity occasionally comes at the price of the real apoplexy for which the script hungers. This means that his pivotal speech on party loyalty is ultimately rather less stirring than it might have been, were it delivered with a little more passion and confidence. By contrast, our young journalist Maggie (Siwan Clark) artfully manipulates her audience with a distinct charm: Clark’s confident portrayal is enjoyable to watch, although one cannot help but feel that the sexual tension engineered between she and Alistair is ultimately a little artificial.
The play’s laboriously guillotined programmes testify to the fact that this production is a labour of love, and the actors (whilst occasionally nervous) do seem to enjoy their roles. There is undeniably room for development, but Whipping It Up! is surely worth seeing for the enthusiasm of its cast and crew alone.