A snapshot of life on Election Night: 2nd May 1997 Review
Poppy Atkinson Gibson
Image description: The cast sat outside on a pavement
Through all my dark internet and backdoor connections (the Entertainment section Gmail), I wangled myself, where many others have failed since it sold out faster than you could say “New Labour”, a ticket, and I was very glad I did. The early slot show of the BT, a black box theatre with limited seating capacity, an excellent script and an exciting cast, ‘2nd May 1997’ was set up for success and certainly delivered.
The play is posited on, as you might guess, the 2nd May 1997. For those who aren’t clued up it’s the exact date that Tony Blair won his first election. The action is split into three acts, each giving a snapshot of the lives of three couples from the three major political persuasions on that fateful evening.
The first act centred itself on an older and outgoing Tory MP ad his wife. Céline Barclay as Marie, the disgruntled and disappointed wife was superb, her shrill tones and mothering character were played perfectly, and the deep disappointments and frustrations with her life crept through without feeling too shoehorned in. Karan Lalwani made a valiant effort, but at times was undone by his shaky accent and rushed lines. Nevertheless, you were left feeling for the characters and whatever your political persuasions, were saddened for their fall from grace.
The second act was a classic case of mistaken identity with Iris Bowdler as Sarah going home with the wrong Lib Dem lad. Tom Baker as Ian excellently trod the line between desperate and awkward, and wanting to be the good guy. His nervous laughter and stuttered lines added to the atmosphere of cringe. In absolute contrast, Iris Bowdler was feisty and exciting and delivered some corkers like “it’s like a sexual ‘Guess Who’” with panache and a wry smile. The sexual politics of the scene were presented tastefully and in a great leap forward, I hear an intimacy co-ordinator was present throughout rehearsals. The micro acting of both added an air of maturity that transcended the often ham acting of student productions.
The third instalment was by far the most heart-breaking. Both Hari Bravery and Noah Radcliffe-Adams were more subtle and skilled in their delivery and performance. The atmosphere of post sex awkwardness, teetering on the edge of truth and that almost ‘coming out’ moment was acted with such great care that I felt almost like a voyeur, peeping at a truly intimate moment. The chemistry was excellent so that the clangers of lines like “You’re the reason I’m glad my Dad didn’t send me to private school” felt particularly brutal and highlighted the gulf between the two characters’ experiences. Noah Radcliffe-Adams’s performance was particularly stand out for me; the camp dancing and the awareness of his own good looking charm shone through and there was a confidence about him that left you fully absorbed in the story and thus, reeling when it all came to an end.
It is at this point I must give a shout out to the costume designer and set designer, Ursy Reynolds, who subtly incorporated the political colours so that, only by the second act did I fully understand the significance of Tom Baker as Ian’s mustard jumper, or Hari Bravery’s patterned red socks. No detail was spared. The political themes therefore were present but were not cumbersome. The actors were able to bring out the tensions and nuances of their interactions against the backdrop rather than drowning in the references.
Overall, ‘2nd May 1997’ was wonderful. It got off to a slow start and I found the first act dragged a little, Céline Barclay as the MP’s wife saved it from feeling too drab and Karan Lalwani made an admirable effort of playing a mid 60s terminally ill MP on the way out but was mired, as student productions so often are, with a 20 something year old portraying someone well beyond their years. Following on from that things started heating up and I found myself wanting more form each act and leaving almost unsatisfied. A truly excellent production and the actors provided subtle and intriguing performances. ‘2nd May 1997’ was a production under the directorship of Katie Kirkpatrick and James Newbery I could easily have watched again and wouldn’t have minded being longer! If only the tickets hadn’t sold out on the first night…