Bold and witty: Rupa Huq reviews Tim Walker's play 'Bloody Difficult Women'
The main protagonists: Theresa May, played by Jessica Turner, and Gina Miller, played by Amara Karan | Photography: Mark Senior
Tim Walker’s dramatisation of the court case brought by the anti-Brexit activist Gina Miller against the then-prime minister Theresa May seems timelier than ever
Given that for the last nearly six years Brexit has been the issue dominating Westminster politicians’ lives, it may seem odd to spend an evening watching events of not a million moons ago rerun onstage for 90 minutes, and, indeed, slightly frivolous to be at the theatre with war occurring. But for me, Bloody Difficult Women proved an enjoyable one-and-a-half hours, a play that deserves to be seen by anyone interested in politics.
An alternative title to this slice of fact-based drama fused with fiction (equalling “faction”?) could almost be “Who Runs Britain?” as relationships of power are dissected sensitively with the (to most) shadowy figure of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre a major player in events. Other big figures remain offstage in terms of personification – Rupert Murdoch and more so Boris Johnson – but loom large nonetheless. The latter is never even referred to by name, but is a lurking background presence.
The action moves between the Mail’s offices, Whitehall (encompassing the Red Lion pub) and the homes of the two main protagonists whose parallel stories are presented: Gina Miller (Amara Karan) and Theresa May (Jessica Turner). Both are shown to have see-sawing fortunes and weak spots in their outwardly robust armour-plated existence.
Rich comic moments however mean this production never feels preachy
For a play concentrating on women, and their lot in the brutal world of politics, there are just two female characters. All the rest are chaps, ranging from the pugnacious Andrew Woodall as Dacre, shown as a bruiser who’d earn any swear box a small fortune, to the ever-loyal Mr Miller (Edmund Kingsley, son of the Gandhi actor Ben). We also get the guttersnipe journo seeking dirt on the Millers, and the junior civil servant and his fawning senior – handpicked by the PM and resolutely eager to please.
Witty dialogue and snappy one liners abound – like the line about playing devil’s advocate, met with the riposte: “Hasn’t he got enough advocates?”
In some senses the play, written by The Telegraph journalist turned arch Remainiac Twitter-warrior Tim Walker seems timelier than ever. Even though the play’s writing predates the Downing Street “partygate” scandal, its references to breaking the rules take on a new significance.
This play will inevitably invite comparisons with Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War drama but importantly Bloody Difficult Women takes a side rather than just relating events. The arrogance of the Etonian features, and attacks on the judiciary come in for not even thinly-veiled criticism. Rich comic moments however mean this production never feels preachy.
It also seems that, as we witness a democratic nation state in mainland Europe under attack, Project Fear predictions made during the referendum about the Continent becoming less safe are coming to pass too – but of course not everyone will see things this way.
This is a bold semi-imagined history of recent events that lifts the lid on the modern obsession to control the narrative. We all know how the saga ended but even here Walker provides a twist. Well worth catching to find out what.
Rupa Huq is Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton
Bloody Difficult Women
Written by: Tim Walker
Directed by: Stephen Unwin
Theatre venue: Riverside Studios, London, until 26 March
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