It’s five years since James Graham’s Tory Boyz was at Soho Theatre. I can still remember the rave reviews and kicking myself for missing it. Now that I’ve seen the revival I regret missing the original even more.
James Graham has reworked his script now that the Tories are in power. Of course they are sharing power but I’m too prudish to quote the sexual metaphor that actor Sope Dirisu uses to describe that unsatisfying relationship.
The play was written not long after the Civil Partnership Act was passed, the debates for which threw the spotlight onto the reactionary figures of the right. Now, in the year that the coalition has passed a same-sex-marriage bill, the tenet of the play seems even more pertinent.
The Tories are in power. Of course they are sharing power but I’m too prudish to quote the sexual metaphor that actor Sope Dirisu uses to describe that unsatisfying relationship.
Sam (Simon Lennon) is a researcher in Parliament, putting in his time and taking the first steps in his political career. We see him wrestling with a conundrum. He is gay, everyone around him knows he is gay; nobody minds him being gay as long as he doesn’t confirm that it’s true.
We hear about a marriage between two male MPs, taking place in the House, but as Sam’s boss points out, they waited ‘til they’d reached the top of their profession before coming out.
It’s fine to be (discretely) gay in the Westminster Village says Sam’s bullying boss, but you have to get there first. It’s the Conservative party members in the home-counties heartland that have to select and vote for you, Nobody will say it matters but it matters.
Sam is haunted (literally at one point) by the presence of Ted Heath (brilliantly played by Niall McNamee) whose life-story is intertwined between scenes. Rumours abound that Heath became a withdrawn and socially dysfunctional figure, tormented by (and the target of blackmail because of) his sexuality.
Heath’s story is poignantly summed up through a meeting with his childhood girlfriend. They sit on swings and talk of what might have been in a beautifully acted moment.
The play is bulked out a little by Sam’s research trip to a school. He has to talk them through a mock debate and that gave an excuse to educate us all about parliamentary procedure.
I was getting a little irritated by the ‘yoof, ya getme?’ talk until an unexpected moment of tenderness between Sam and his most mouthy student. A clash of culture and a misplaced fist-bump turn into the holding of hands and a tender talk about the repression of a Caribbean family upbringing.
Sam returns to his office, his boss and the ever-patient man who has been seeking a date with him throughout the play. I won’t spoil the ending or describe the path it takes but I can say I was pleased to be taken on the journey.
It’s easy to see how James Graham became entranced by the backroom politics of Parliament; it’s an intense world that magnifies every situation. This was obviously a much smaller production than his later, This House but it has the same sharp wit, layered nuance and snappy dialogue.