This review was written for the Londonist
Five people walk into a café and deliver five separate monologues about how their lives have turned out. Their voices interweave but never become a conversation. The café is a faceless high street joint, complete with bored barista, that gets its colour from the people that pass through. London can always provide characters – here we have an energetic Glaswegian activist, a social climbing political secretary, a youth with an electronic tag, a refugee and a mum on a date. For some reason they all decide to share their life stories with us and, coincidentally, each one has been shaped by Tony Blair.
‘Blair’s Children’ – a new Cockpit Theatre production inspired by a 1970s play called ‘Kennedy’s Children’ – boasts five playwrights as well as five performers, with each actor’s script provided by a different writer. These coffee drinkers are both archetypes and individuals, stereotypical in some ways but with a depth and humour that reminds you not to judge people on appearance and accent alone. They are also vehicles for the writers to make a political point – that Blair had a profound impact on ordinary people, in this case ordinary Londoners.
During the New Labour years, Marie worked for a celebrated inner city youth project that’s now lost its funding; Maggie marched against the war then lost her son in Iraq; Dee watched his dad disappear and his aspirational mum try to make something of her life; Vlatco fled his war torn home and found a kind of solace in kitchens and clubs; and Jennifer was an aide on the inside, complicit in all that occurred.
The café setting works, as does the trick of five playwrights collaborating yet remaining distinct. Some parts of the play are very funny and some very sad. Yet there’s something missing here. Dave Wybrow, who commissioned the play, talks about the need for “a new generation of radical theatre” and this is the first play published under the Cockpit’s exciting new Theatre of Ideas and Disruptive Panache banner. But it falls short. It’s interesting and engaging in a soap opera kind of way but, as political theatre and a review of the Blair years, it doesn’t feel challenging or revelatory enough.
Blair’s Children plays at The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, Marylebone, NW8 8EH until 22 June.