“One year mair, one year less,” rumbles Gordon Brown, thinking back to the homespun sayings of his hometown of Kirkcaldy - this one a somewhat cynical birthday greeting.
It’s also a reflection of Brown’s feelings as he awaited Tony Blair's discarding of office. For power is finite and the then-Chancellor knew that the longer Blair clung on the closer Brown’s inevitable end in politics would be.
All of these thoughts are ascribed to him by writer and director Kevin Toolis in this well-observed one-man dissection of many of Brown’s real and possible motives. The piece rings with authenticity thanks to Toolis’ obvious familiarity with his subject and an excellent central performance which sees Ian Grieve inhabit our last Prime Minister. As he paces his office awaiting his staff’s arrival at 6am, Brown ponders his life and career in obsessive detail, from the teenage eye injury which apparently set in him a stoic determination to a pathological aversion to focus groups and the opinions of every Mark and Tricia in the land.
Grieve and Toolis confidently stride through different tones and moods, although lines which offer lighter relief – for example, comments about Alistair Darling’s eyebrows or the “we’re all f***in’ doomed!” attitude of rolling news – sound more Billy Connolly than Brown. But then apparently he was both witty and given to four-letter outbursts in the heat of the moment.
However, next to moments of real power and pathos as he considers leaders from history, the nature of power and its eventual surrender, and a realisation that he’s “leader of the led, not master of the universe,” there does exist the sense that less light needed to be let in. As another of those sayings goes, “the higher the height, the greater the fa’”.