The Confessions of Gordon Brown, Ambassadors theatre, review


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It’s dawn, and Gordon Brown is looking back over his career before his staff even arrive for a 6am meeting. Protestant work ethic? Not half. And that’s just one element of the former Labour leader that writer Kevin Toolis puts under the microscope in this one-man play.

Ian Grieve’s performance implies that Brown was fond of the limelight. And, despite lumbering in a convincingly bear-like fashion, emotionally Grieve turns on a sixpence - switching from grandiose “I am the leader” hubris to fear of failure, a sense of groping the dark.

Toolis is good on Brown’s all-too-human contradictions: here is genuine belief in the need to change society, and the oft-repeated motto “I will try my utmost”; yet here also is ruthlessness towards colleagues and scorn for “the public”.

Brown’s rumoured behind-doors temper is evoked, as is rivalry with “that dwarfish thief”, Tony Blair. There are cheap jokes - Alistair’s Darling’s eyebrows; Ed Miliband’s geekiness - but mostly it’s entertaining stuff.

This Brown is witty on the subject of power and what you need to achieve it: “height, hair and teeth”.

He understands personality politics, even if he was a failure in that regard, crumpling at the mention of key focus-group term, “likability”.

The most cringe-inducing moments? When Grieve recreates Brown’s poor, grimacing attempts at big, likable grins.

To 30 July;