Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

“In my experience, few MPs are the self-serving individuals they are sometimes portrayed as being.”

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The Independent Culture

Politicians are being “unfairly” portrayed in West End plays as self-serving individuals, according to Sir John Major, who claims it discourages people from voting.

The former Prime Minister expressed concern that alternative theatre is undermining the political system by showing MPs in a negative light that, he argues, does not reflect the reality.

Recent plays such as The Duck House, The Confessions of Gordon Brown, Kingmaker and the revival of Yes Minister for the stage have all taken a wry look at politicians and goings-on at Westminster.

“It is healthy that the theatre does not slavishly support the system, but sometimes I worry that it undermines it unfairly,” said Sir John, who was portrayed last year in The Audience, Peter Morgan’s play about the Queen’s weekly meetings with Prime Ministers throughout her reign.

“In my experience, few MPs are the self-serving, self-interested individuals they are sometimes portrayed as being.”

Speaking to Create, a new journal launched by Arts Council England, he criticises “some alternative theatre” for contributing to disillusion around the political system, explaining that it discourages people from voting and “always has done”.

However, he said that “overall the arts promote a healthy attitude to life and thus to democracy”.

More serious plays to involve politics in recent years include This House at the National Theatre and the forthcoming Hope at the Royal Court Theatre. The Donmar Warehouse is planning a play set in a polling station, which will be broadcast live on More4 on election night next May.

Jack Thorne, who wrote Hope, said that good political theatre is "a conversation".

“Good theatre is something that engages people and good politics needs engagement," he said.

Terri Paddock, a theatre industry expert, said: “The theatre isn’t undermining the system, it’s questioning it. Artists question the world around them. We’re in a period with a lot of political theatre on stage. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly MP-bashing."

Sir John grew up surrounded by the performing arts as his father was on the musical hall stage and was a circus performer, which made him a “lifelong devotee of the theatre", he said.