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Upper Cut

In 1987, four black candidates were elected to the House of Commons for the first time: Dianne Abbott and Keith Vaz still MPs, the now-retired Paul Boateng and the late Bernie Grant. It was a long time coming, and Juliet Gilkes Romero’s fictional version of the progress of two black activists and their subsequent parliamentary careers – one brought down by an internal policy wrangle, the other elevated to deputy leader of the Labour Party – vividly but not necessarily convincingly shows the cut and thrust of the backrooms of political engagement, and its private and personal costs.

Told in 10 scenes, played in reverse chronology from 2012 back to 1986, it’s a story that’s worth telling. It’s a pity, however, that Romero’s play is too often mired in dramatic cliche both its men become sexually involved with its sole woman and has its characters speaking in what sometimes sounds like speech bubbles. Sometimes you find yourself imagining how David Hare or James Graham, both of whom have set plays behind the scenes of parliament, would have tackled these characters.

Yet it is given a resonant production by Lotte Wakeham that manages to make it gripping. It is fired by the urgency and commitment of its cast of three, led by Akemnji Ndifornyen and Emma Dennis-Edwards as lovers-turned-ideological adversaries, with the fine Andrew Scarborough as a campaign manager for one who also becomes lover of the other.

Verdict: Fictional political play about black representation in parliament remains topical, but isn’t always plausible

Mark Shenton