A hit at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe, Robert Khan and Tom Salinksy’s satirical three-hander about a jocular, charismatic London mayor’s bid to become prime minister (sound familiar?) makes a timely transition to the Arts Theatre’s upstairs venue.
The pleasure of Kingmaker is that while its characters are undeniably based on Boris Johnson and other high-ranking Conservative politicians, Khan, Salinsky and the three fine performers have created compelling fresh personas rather than simply resorting to impersonation.
So while Max Newman, who has been called to a secretive meeting with his Cameron-esque rival Dan Regan by steely MP Eleanor Hopkirk, has enough Johnsonian buffoonery to skewer the real mayor, Alan Cox’s slightly camp pretender (“part teddy bear, part serial killer”) is more reminiscent of John Hurt channelling Larry Grayson. As a man whose public-facing clowning is a high-wire act (zip-wire act, perhaps?) that cloaks a bullying ambition, Cox nails the sense of purposeful playfulness. Politics, he announces with unconcealed relish, “is the greatest game of all. And I love games”.
Playing the resentful Hopkirk, Joanna Bending’s carefully lowered vocal tones instantly recall Thatcher, yet her desperate anguish draws an unlikely sympathy. Laurence Dobiesz’s Regan, meanwhile, is a polished young contender whose dawning awareness that he’s a pawn in a bigger game gradually removes his sheen.
While rarely laugh-out-loud funny, the play is full of smart, well-observed lines and occasionally crackles with menace as the revealing Mexican standoff, Westminster-style, plays out.