Friday, 8 May 2015

Stage-to-screen review: The Vote

The second James Graham political play to have been running in London concurrently with The Angry Brigade, tickets for The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse were allocated by ballot, so although I applied I wasn't able to see the show at the theatre. I guess that's democracy for you, Donmar members didn't get preferential treatment, and neither did critics - it's just a fortuitous coincidence that all the newspaper critics' applications successfully got them tickets for the same night. And just in time to give it a boost for its showing on More4 on election night! That was the alternative option for those of us who didn't get to see the starry cast in the flesh, a live broadcast at the exact time that the show is set: 8:30 to 10pm, the final 90 minutes of voting in a Lambeth polling station. It's a marginal seat and, with the election looking like a closer-run thing than it actually turned out to be, every vote could be crucial.

Steven (Mark Gatiss,) Laura (Nina Sosanya) and Kirsty (Catherine Tate) have been running the polling station all day, ever since Kirsty had to break into the locked primary school with an axe - becoming a Vine star for the day in the process.

If politics can sometimes be called farcical, then that's also the approach Graham and director Josie Rourke have taken with this light comedy, the minor mishaps that can occur during a day's voting paling into insignificance when a confused elderly man, Fred (Timothy West) is accidentally allowed to vote twice. In an increasing panic, Kirsty tries to second-guess how Fred might have voted, and recruits her husband (Michael Shaeffer,) son (Tommy French) and brother-in-law to try and counteract the second ballot.

Meanwhile the rest of the voters keep streaming through the doors, played by many familiar faces: Nicholas Burns and Rosalie Craig are fun as a bickering couple, Hadley Fraser is a drunk in alarmingly tight trousers, real-life mother and daughter Judi Dench and Finty Williams are two generations with different attitudes to how important the vote itself is, and Paul Chahidi is as show-stealing as ever as a single-issue independent candidate who won't let several past defeats put him off his campaign to get a local one-way system changed. The cameo role of Kirsty's brother-in-law Colin has been played by a different actor every night: Andrew Scott, Russell Tovey and Simon Russell Beale have taken on the role in the last couple of weeks, while for this final performance it was Jude Law (surprising everyone who'd expected Ubiquitous Cucumberpatch to turn up for the telly version.)

The transfer to live TV wasn't entirely successful; thanks to a little introductory film telling us how exciting this whole project is, the start of the show got cut off, and we opened with Llewella Gideon already sprawled on the floor as a voter who'd slipped and fallen. And ad breaks in a live performance with no interval means either we were missing some of the action, or more likely Graham had had to insert some obvious filler into the show to keep the audience occupied while the rest of us were being told to buy a car. But The Vote still came across as a gently affectionate look at the people who - admittedly for double pay - give up their time to help democracy work, and Sosanaya is quietly convincing as ever, as the member of the team who still feels there's an ideological reason to spend her day in this little room.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes including commercial breaks.

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