2nd May 1997 celebrates an era that feels unimaginably far from our current political landscape. Love Song Productions’ performance of the play captures this spirit of change; of breaking away from the past, and racing towards the future.
The play is sectioned into neat thirds ー naturally, one for each of the three main parties ー spread over the course of the election night and the following morning. It opens with Tory MP Robert (Karan Lalwani) reflecting on his career as he tries to evade the grim inevitability of losing his seat. Meanwhile, his wife Marie (Céline Barclay) both dotes over him, and opens up about the lonely life of an MP’s spouse. The endless constituency garden parties and condescending SpAds are cited, but more serious are the tales of numerous handsy and leering MPs that Marie has had to endure. In the light of recent allegations about Stanley Johnson inappropriately touching journalists and MPs, this sheds a stark light on how old problems continue to plague politics today, twenty years on.
Lalwani is excellent in the role of Robert, capturing the old-boy, traditionalist mentality of 80s politics that New Labour tried so hard to break away from. His strong attachment to conservatism and frustration at this changing of the tide is clear, whilte his age and illness parallels the tired-feeling Conservative party of the late nineties; too broken to be complacent, and too stubborn to change.
As the stage is transformed yellow, we are taken to a scene midway through the night, where a man and a womanl stumble in after an election party. Ian (Tom Baker), being a Lib Dem, is unable to cope with any kind of sexual tension, while Sarah (Iris Bowdler), having gatecrashed the party, is after something a little more exciting than watching the seats come in. Bowdler manages to perfectly capture Sarah’s chaotic and drunken state as she pendulums from brazen flirtation to confused vulnerability, perfectly opposing Baker’s nerdy nervousness. Throughout the play, the characters neatly fit into their party’s stereotypes, however co-directors Katie Kirkpatrick and James Newbery are careful not to lean too much into cliché, and in this scene, Baker’s Ian slowly transforms from a spineless bore into someone more, well, human, as Sarah opens up to him.
Throughout the play, we are reminded of the impact of politics upon the character’s lives, and I’m sure anyone who has spent enough time with a PPE-ist can recognise the moment when switching on the election coverage makes Ian’s eyes light up in a way that poor Sarah could never manage. Despite this, though, Sarah and Ian’s chance meeting reminds us that the world does not, and should not, stop for politics, despite what Ian may wish.
As Blair’s new dawn breaks, we find ourselves in a teenage bedroom, where friends Jake (Noah Radcliffe-Adams) and Will (Hari Bravery) find themselves entangled after the previous night’s festivities. We see their furtive excitement as they pour over the morning’s papers and attempt to memorise the new cabinet, and their youthful energy as they plan their own political careers. They are sure of everything, it seems, apart from themselves. Where Jake shakes off the events of the night before with a winning smirk, Will hides his feelings for Jake behind his enthusiasm for this new era of politics, giving the boys’ jubilation a bittersweet undertone.
Radcliffe-Adams’s Jake is marvellously arrogant, eager to show-off his political knowledge and intellectual prowess. Meanwhile, Bravery’s longing stares and nervous tension in the part of Will give the scene its edge, Jake being too busy dreaming to notice his silent admirer. While initially, the boys seem the epitome of the hopeful, Cool Britannia spirit of Blair’s campaign, this emotional tension reminds us that politics can’t solve everything, no matter how hard we may try to pretend it does.
2nd May 1997 manages to use a pivotal moment in political history to explore three very different relationships and the difficulties they face. It is performed with grace and humour, using the political events as a mirror that reflects the difficulties of each pair’s situation. 2nd May 1997 is about more than just politics; it’s about love and about the relationships that shape our lives, despite the changing of political tides.