Skip to main content

Spoiling- how Scottish is this play? Theatre Royal Stratford East

A moment after Spoiling, written by John McCann and down from Edinburgh’s Traverse and just opening at Theatre Royal Stratford East, I sat in the bar with friend and fellow critic Daniel Harrison to mull things over.
We had questions. Or at least he did. Like Why? Mainly. Probably because the sense that Spoiling is still a sketch and in need of a little further development. But also, for whom, too? The demographic of future audiences will be interesting to see.. although I am all for a theatre taking risks and Spoiling is a play that everyone should be interested in because it concerns the future of Scotland and so, of the UK too.
But it is also interesting not just because this 50 minute two hander imagines a political world where Scotland have voted Yes and the now Foreign Minister ‘designate’ Fiona [Gabriel Quigley] is to make her inaugural speech opposite that of her British counterpart [whom we learn ‘are the real terrorists’] and is feared by her own party for being a loose cannon [what will she say to upset the status quo?] and so the cavalry are sent in in the form of disillusioned ex Northern Ireland civil servant Mark Henderson [Richard Clements] but also because this play is vastly more human and holistic than its conceit suggests.
Despite all the signposts that this is in part a polemic on the ‘Eton mess’ Tory party’s antagonism towards female politicians [which does, by making Fiona pregnant, eat rice cakes and use her sexuality to defend herself against the at first aggressive Henderson, look like a lot of boxes are being ticked to counter it] it is also something more. And that more comes when Fiona forces the bitter angry Henderson to relinquish his obsession with party protocol [‘it takes exactly 2 minutes and 44 seconds to walk to the green room' at Holyrood] and his liking for the word ‘dispositive’ [which interestingly, in Scottish law, means dealing with the disposition of property by deed and will] and into a fierce and unabated diatribe against his own people back at Stormant. Fiona’s triumph seems to be not in the speech she will give to counter the betraying ways and slick rhetoric of the British but in making Henderson off message, off protocol, on her side and so more human. It’s also a comment on how words and party protocol hide the human being in us.
Quite literally, there are some literal metaphors that are too unsubtle – Fiona is made pregnant by an Englishman at the settlement agreements for example- but there is certainly one message that is undeniably present- where there are common enemies, fresh and unexpected allegiances can and will be made. Considering the world’s state of affairs presently, that’s pretty pertinent.

Spoiling continues at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 13 September


Fiona Gabriel QuigleyMark Richard Clements


Director Orla O’LoughlinDesigner Anthony LambleLighting Designer Colin GrenfellComposer / Sound Designer Danny KrassAssistant Director Andy McNamee


Popular posts from this blog

Walking the Tightrope- Theatre Delicatessen

Site-specific set? Perhaps. In the old Guardian offices in Farringdon, Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut curate a cycle of 12 short plays exploring the tension[s] between art and politics, reactions to the budget cuts to the arts in the UK and debate freedom of expression controversies. Corruption, class divides, perception, blood money, gesture politics and culpability, it’s all there and recent topical events are given stage time, from The Tricycle’s controversial decision to withdraw their support for the UK Jewish Film Festival to the Barbican’s cancelled Exhibit B. The plays are entertaining- Sun City by April De Angelis, Re: Exhibit by Gbolahan Obisesan, Old Newland by Julie Pascal, Tickets are on Sale Now by Caryl Churchill and Exhibit A, by Neil LaBute, all deserve special mention for looking beyond the parameters of funding and freedom of expression in the UK arts- by which of course, I mean a theatrical London still surfing the very last trickling waves of Colonialism and it…

A Man of Good Hope: review

“The ability to have someone tell your story is so important. It says you know I was here.” Maya Angelou It’s a piece of musical theatre about having hope. It’s an urgent work which speaks of age old global phenomenons such as migration and life as a persecuted refugee. The term refugee has been part of the western world’s history since the persecution of protestants in France in 1540, the term migrant is biblical. The book upon which the show is based, an account of the life of Somali Asad Abdullahi who witnessed the murder of his mother when he was eight years old in Mogadishu during the civil war and who then fled across Africa as a boy and young man as a consequence, is in some ways so traumatic a read that the stage work has to offer more positivity than the title infers. 
In the Isango Ensemble and director Mark Dornford-May, with a little help from Stephen Daldry, the book, by Jonny Steinberg, has found the perfect stage partners. One feels that no other company could do this wor…

Safe House- art meets theatre at the Young Vic with Jeremy Herbert and Gabriella Sonabend

It starts with a journey down a narrow corridor, fist clenching wooden key.
‘Follow the yellow line’ the polite Usher says and I do, around the corner and into a foyer area, where I am met with a gust of wind from a machine that Jeremy Herbert, the designer, has created himself. As my hair blows and my cheeks and eyes are battered as if I am standing on top of a mountain, I am tempted to remain here, to continue to feel the gusts in my face and listen to the sound the wind makes. I don’t want anything else and I can’t hear anything else, only aware of a need to immerse myself in it, to let myself go in the rapid flashing lights that emanate from its surface. I’m one who craves aloneness and enjoys it all too well, but I am afraid that someone will come and disturb this brief relationship myself and the wind machine have struck up, or that my mind will interfere, the buzz of thoughts getting the better of me.. so I move on around the room, after all, there are four more ‘safes’, all a s…