In 2016, as the Tory party grappled with David Cameron’s decision to hold a Brexit referendum, Boris Johnson invited Michael Gove to dinner. Their conversation triggered a whirlwind of betrayals, broken promises, and power grabs that left the party, and the country, divided.
The story has the makings of a compelling satire, but author Jonathan Maitland opts to tell it as a knockabout comedy, contrasting true events with an imagined future campaign to revivify a flagging political career – the Last Temptation of the title. Here, Maitland riffs on Johnson’s love of Latin and propensity for affairs, rather than meaningfully examining the flawed figure beneath the clownish persona.
Will Barton does a consummate impression of Johnson, tactically mussing his hair before interviews, capturing the broken rhythms of his blustery speechifying. Davina Moon is strong as QC Marina Wheeler, tackling the politicking with far more dispassionate adroitness than the bumbling men around her.
Meanwhile, Spitting Image co-creator Steve Nallon reprises his familiar Margaret Thatcher impression, nailing her tones of trembling self-righteousness, roaring about sovereignty and – embarrassingly – dancing a Hokey Cokey with Winston Churchill.
Director Lotte Wakeham stages it all with satisfactory energy, her cast circling each other continually, all quips and false smiles. Towards the end, as Johnson flip-flops in pursuit of power, the rear wall of Louie Whitemore’s functional, minimal set crashes down around him as in the infamous Buster Keaton stunt. It’s a suitable closing image for this creaky portrait of a cunning buffoon with a knack for survival.