In front of a packed audience at the Shaftesbury Theatre in the west end we got our first glimpse of Parliamental; a concept realised by newly elected Labour NEC member Eddie Izzard to bring all the pizazz and drama of the House of Commons to the stage.
Set in a scaled-down mock-up of the House of Commons we were treated to a warts-and-all Westminster parody, underpinned by the writer’s attempt to stimulate interest in pressing social issues and overturn the popular perception of parliamentary politics as being nothing more than a posh Punch and Judy show.
Izzard positively effervesced as The Speaker, enhancing the traditional House role with a variety of unconstitutional costumes and betraying a little of the meandering mirth minstrel from his stand-up act, breaking the fourth wall with pithy political observation and rib-tickling translations. Along with a cast of characters of the likes of: Cobra, Chief Whip and Black Rod, this drama was never going to be a laidback affair.
The performance spanned three acts with each act pivoting around an increasingly contentious issue. Act one began tentatively with a convivial discussion about bicycle-lane subsidies. There was a lovely moment early on when a Tory MP, played by Simon Kettle wished, ‘to clarify the government’s position’ to which a Labour MP, played by Lydia Jones riposted, ‘The minister couldn’t clarify butter.’
Act two and MPs expenses were on the table, soon the sedate debate escalated into a full-blown showdown with Tory cabinet minister, Nigel Ashby, removing his jacket and challenging Lib Dem, Edward Makepeace, ‘Would the Member for Poppycock Central care to take the matter outside?’
By act three It wasn’t all popularity and jocularity, after Labour MP, portrayed by the sublime Anthony Sodbury, serenely rose and begged, ‘Might the House unite for a moment to reflect on the passing of the Right Honourable Member for Cheam’s beloved Aston Martin?’ A truly touching sentiment that brought a lump to throats and a rapturous ‘Hear, hear’ from an informed and emotionally engaged audience.
In Parliamental, Eddie Izzard appears to have found a vehicle to express his knowledge of the great British democratic process and his love of the great British barmpot. It’s experimental, it’s irreverential, it’s sentimental, but above all it’s Parliamental, and will be touring the provinces soon. It may well float your vote but I doubt it’ll give everyone an election.