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