Reviewed by Richard Lane
Eddie is the media adviser, press secretary and senior spin doctor who, with speech writer Paul, is “massaging” the Prime Minister’s conference address. This is to make the PM and the party come out of it with a speech that makes the party look good. Thus , the “feelgood” factor. And “ fast” Eddie is a bastard! He digs the dirt on all his colleagues and they of course do his bidding, knowing that it is all spin and no substance.
Eddie’s investigative journalist ex-wife Liz is staying at the same hotel where the conference is being held and she has stumbled on to a scandal that could wreck the conference, the Party and all the true believers.
This super-topical piece by playwright Alistair Beaton is played strictly for laughs in Mixed Salad’s latest offering. And laughs and laughs it brings throughout the first act with spin replacing the true democratic process. The second scene immediately after intermission between Liz and ex-husband Eddie, fell in a bit of a trough on opening night but perhaps this may have something to do with scratching for lines. It builds up again as the play moves swiftly towards its conclusion. But underneath the laughs the audience doesn’t feel “good”, rather unease at the duplicity of “presentation” above truth.
Director Sally Putnam, as usual, has brought together a fine cast for this oh-so relevant political satire phenomenon.
Consummate actor Dave Simms as the spin doctor Eddie is sublime. Simms hisses, shouts whispers, cajoles, insinuates and manipulates, in this role made for him. As speech writer, failed idealist and forever hopeful Paul, Ben Brooker is convincing, as is Philippa Ewens as Asha, female media adviser not taken too seriously by Eddie. Nicole Rutty as Liz gives a good performance but, with a slightly misplaced English accent, sometimes seems a little awkward. Paul Davies plays the PM’s mate George as a boofhead and does it well. His scene with Eddie when he reveals that beer made with genetically modified hops from a crop on his property (the basis of Liz’s scandal) can produce breasts on men, is a real gem.
Gag writer Simon, hired to instil some humour into the conference speech, is played nuttily by Lee Cook complete with Cockney accent.
The PM arrives in perfect time at the end and delivers the “spun” speech amidst anti-government riots in the streets. Tony Busch plays the megalomanic D.L. (“Divine Leader”) as only Tony Busch can and we all feel good. Or do we?
Director Putnam provides enough opportunities under the laughter in this clever production for us to reflect on the true nature of our political system. In her program notes, Sally Putnam says that the set “…has that vital ingredient that spin doctors put so much emphasis on: transparency.”