The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson: Theatre Review

Rating: 3

By Ivo Dawnay

There is something distinctly Shakespearean about Boris Johnson – larger than life, tragi-comic and plagued by hubris. But, vaulting ambition aside, is he hesitant Hamlet, hail-fellow-well-met Falstaff or merely chaotically dressed Malvolio?

Jonathan Maitland’s new play – The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson – seems to think he is a bit of all three. At a star-studded preview in North London’s Park Theatre – there were at least two former Dr Whos  and a smattering of theatrical grandees in the audience – comedy, not tragedy, took centre stage.

Will Barton’s interpretation of the would-be great man captured the brooding seriousness behind the clown facade. In an interview with the BBC’s Huw Edwards (Tim Wallers), our hero deliberately musses up his hair, displaces his tie and rumples his shirt before the camera comes – once it goes, the actor MP resumes a brooding introversion.

The first act recreates a much reported dinner at his Islington home in 2016 where Michael and Sarah Gove, plus a slapstick, name-dropping Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of the Evening Standard, urge BoJo to throw his hat into the Leave camp. Their pleas are supported by the ghostly arrival of Winston Churchill and a larger-than-life Mrs Thatcher, brilliantly voiced by Steve Nallon. Tony Blair too makes a smarmy, all teeth and sincerity, entrance to plead the other case.

Like the Prince of Denmark, Johnson hesitates.

Flash forward to Act Two, and it is 2029, ten years on from Brexit and Sir Boris, as he then is, broods on. There are some clever plot twists and our tragic hero’s fatal flaws are once again revealed. No spoilers here, but Brian Rix, the great Whitehall farceur, would be familiar with some of them. Once again, Mrs T and Winston lend their political advice and there is the inevitable camp knees-up that theatre-goers seem to demand in all but the most high-brow productions. 

Lotte Wakeham’s fast-paced production never leaves one bored and Barton’s Johnson is a good deal more than two-dimensional, capturing not just the mannerisms but both the entitlement and the hesitancy of the hero. And, or course, the ambition, though arguably, not a lot more – which is, in fact, the rather heavy-handed point.

Fans of the former Foreign Secretary will not enjoy this play, though his enemies may perhaps find it not caustic enough. Like today’s politics, it has something to annoy everyone. But, hardly surprising for a North London production (and audience), this is a script clearly honed for a Remainer as opposed to a Leaver audience.

Unlike the great Brexit farce itself, there is less in this than meets the eye – more Radio 4’s Dead Ringers than the Bard. 

Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London: 020-7870 6876,