Goodness. We were there.
No, we hadn’t expected to be either.
Phil won tickets for an “unprecedented experiment and a major innovation in theatre and television”, The Vote in (appropriately enough) a ballot.
We say “won”, he was aware he had to pay for them of course. Yet it still felt like one of those “competitions” where you think you’ve won a free holiday then find you have to pay for your flights and accommodation at absurdly inflated rates after making a long premium rate phone call.
That’s because it wasn’t easy. When he received the congratulatory email Phil immediately clicked on the link (which could only be clicked once) to find it wasn’t working, telling him it had already been used. Perhaps his finger was trembling with such excitement he did click twice?
Others had the same problem apparently, especially for his date, which also happened to be the first performance. It took 24 hours for Ambassador Theatre Group to get back to him, then silly old AGT sent out the tickets second class on the Monday before the Friday performance so they didn’t arrive (still haven’t) and had to be cancelled and reissued for collection.
Tickets secured in the ballot must be booked by, and the performance attended by, the named recipient of the successful entry email. Photo ID will be required upon your arrival at the theatre. It is not possible to book tickets on behalf of someone else. We will refuse entrance to anyone who did not enter the original ballot and does not present photo ID.
If your booked 2 tickets, your guest must be accompanied by you when you come to the performance.
And if all the above was as uninteresting as the election brouhaha itself we shall get onto the play.
So why the excitement? Well for those who don’t know:
Set in a fictional London polling station, THE VOTE dramatises the final ninety minutes before the polls close in this year’s general election. On that exact day, May 7, at that precise time 8.25 – 10pm, the play will be broadcast live on More4 from the Donmar stage.
Created by Josie Rourke and James Graham and written by the latter (who also gave us the splendidly entertaining This House) at 90 minutes and with a cast of 39 we wondered just how much of each star we would actually get. For very starry it is indeed. The cast includes: Judi Dench, Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, Paul Chahidi, Jackie Clune, Pandora Colin, real life husband and wife team Rosalie Craig and Hadley Fraser, Bill Paterson and Timothy West.
So we had to be in our seats by 8.20pm. It has to start on time as they need it to be spot on for the live TV transmission on election night. Rourke and Graham introduced the play and the conceit in an agreeably jaunty fashion, explaining that it will be played out in real time and that the “first night” will also be the last performance, then left the stage as the on stage clock ticked down to 8.30 precisely.
So less of a review then and more about the experience. But the experience turned out (geddit?) to be largely agreeable one.
Gatiss is in charge of a Lambeth polling station fashioned from a school gymnasium (design Robert Jones, Andrew enthused about the parquet). Tate and Nina Sosanya are handing out the ballot papers. Without giving too much away, Tate makes a mistake and embroils her co-workers in attempts to rectify the error which escalates into making matters much worse.
All of human life troops through to vote including an Independent candidate (Chahidi, very funny), a drunk, some school children (one of them is Fisayo Akinade from TV’s Cucumber and Banana) who look too young to vote (suggesting a plot line that isn’t developed), one with possible dementia, a woman of restricted growth and a lesbian couple, one of whom is Russian and voting for the first time and wants to commemorate the occasion by taking photographs using a selfie stick.
Sosanya, Gatiss and Tate are on almost throughout and milk plenty of humour from the mountingly silly chaos. Dame Judi’s character sails on at 9.42pm with her daughter (played by her real life daughter Finty Williams) in tow and a plot device which keeps them on stage until the curtain call.
And we laughed, rather a lot. Some may accuse it of not having much depth but it does point up some of the absurdities of elections and at least it’s not ramming political points down your throat. Others could learn about keeping an audience entertained. It does verge into sit com territory occasionally and whether it works on TV remains to be seen. Judi’s low-key but humorous performance seems geared to the cameras already.
On TV there will be ad breaks but the play will continue live, so there are expendable chunks which won’t be seen at home. In the pub afterwards Phil and Andrew tried to work out which bits these might be. Gatiss attempting the hula hoop?
You have to hand it to them for the sheer bravado of even attempting it. The timing is critical. Andrew wondered if there are clocks scattered around the auditorium the cast can see. Do they speed up and slow down accordingly? Phil tried to imagine just how many clocks and cast wranglers there are backstage to help marshal the proceedings. And is it true (as has been suggested to us) they’ve hired empty retail outlets around the Donmar to cope with the dressing room situation?
Its two week run is certainly putting bums on seats in the Donmar. Just how many bums it puts on sofas on the 7th will be interesting to see.
A first and a one-off it may be, but no doubt a first and a one-off time you’ll see Haribo sweets used as a theatrical metaphor too.