The political and personal life of the late Tony Benn is explored in this gentle monologue first performed in Nottingham in 2015. Andy Barrett has written a charming character piece that cleverly ties together thoughts and stories from the legendary diaries and speeches of the formidable Labour MP into an evening of reflection.
The 87-year-old Tony Benn, played by Philip Bretherton, ambles into his parliamentary office in a No Poll Tax t-shirt and pyjama bottoms. He has set up several recording devices amidst the mahogany desk, piles of books and filing cabinets. It is time for him to step down from being a campaigning social democratic; now is an opportunity to recall the battles won and lost. There are plenty of snappy references to a lifetime of his peers, from Churchill to Cameron and Kinnock to Brown. There are also plaintive tributes to his family; his brother Mike killed in WWII, his son Hilary sitting in the House of Commons and emotional tributes to his wife Caroline. Through the stirring speeches, clever analogies and witticisms there is a faint sense of melancholy.
The show meanders through Benn’s story, from inventions and funerals to trips to Russia and finally finding trendiness in the modern protest movement. Bretherton is a convincing host, sometimes slowly moving around the stage to pull out unusual props and most at home behind a desk, pulling on his pipe. He switches smoothly between the stridency and humour that bought fans and foes knocking on Benn’s door.
This is a play filled with warm nostalgia for a different age of politics. In an intimate setting it’s a suitably sensitive acknowledgement of a jolly thoughtful man.