Written just after the Second World War and inspired by the summary treatment of both Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval, this play attempts to question the nature of reportage at a time of war. Using elements of King Lear and an amalgam of theatrical styles, author Peter Ustinov attempts to uncover the nature of propaganda and how easily the manipulation of the media can sway a nation’s conscience.
Miles Richardson, Damian Quinn, Mark Carey and Rodney Bewes in The Moment of Truth at the Southwark Playhouse, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Central to the plot is the Marshal, a decorated war veteran idolised by his countrymen but now on the verge of dementia. Political plea-bargaining anoints him head of state to instil confidence in the new order, but inevitably the house of cards collapses.
The New Actors Company and director Robert Laycock are to be complimented on the revival of this absorbing political satire that, rather sadly, remains as pertinent today as it did when first performed in the middle of the last century. The trio of Miles Richardson as Prime Minister, Mark Carey as Foreign Minister and Callum Coates as General in the initial war cabinet capture the downright absurdity of modern politics, in a style not a million light years away from Yes Minister.
Quite different in style, and causing problems with the structure of the play as a whole, is the story of the Marshal and his daughter. Rodney Bewes delivers a beautifully nuanced performance as the doddering old soldier, and Bonnie Wright, in her stage debut, is perfectly acceptable as the Girl, but something is at odds here. The play alters pace dramatically, delivering its final message with much less of an impact than anticipated. References to Lear are manifest, but nothing like the tragedy of Lear has taken place before this point.
The real strength of this production, however, is in the ensemble, making the play well worth a visit to the new, albeit temporary, Southwark venue.