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Coalition: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

What most Edinburgh shows wouldn’t give to be the front-page story on The Scotsman this month? Well, thanks to events, yesterday’s paper splashed on the open warfare in the coalition… the very basis of this new comedy play which now seems optimistic in setting the break-up date as 2014.

Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky’s tale of plot and counter-plot contains strong elements of Yes, Minister – more so than The Thick Of It – especially in the establishing scenes. But it turns out more Fawlty Towers farce than that, heaping humiliation upon humiliation on the nominally fictional Deputy Prime Minister until he cracks.

In full-on rant, Thom Tuck is excellent as the likeable but ineffectual Lib Dem leader Matt Cooper, fighting like a wounded animal to keep his increasingly tenuous grip on power while his allies desert him like he deserted his principles. The more he unravels, the more compelling he is to watch in what turns out to be a tour-de-force performance.

The first to go his blunt-speaking No 2, Geoffrey Webb, played by stand-up Alistair Barrie as a popular Vince Cable type, important for keeping the grassroots onside, who quits on a point of principle sacrificed in the name of coalition compromise. This sparks a by-election, and the chain of events that drives Cooper so furious with frustration.

The set-up for all this is a little bit sluggish, as we get introduced to key players including Jo Caulfied as the Lib Dem’s ice-cool chief whip, Angela Hornby, and a scene-stealing Phill Jupitus as the PM’s creepily camp, oleaginous envoy Sir Francis Whitford, sowing the seeds of his enemy’s destruction. ‘You can always trust the Tories,’ he asserts witht a sinister hiss.

Yet while the plot creeps along, the writing is confident, with some wry, knowing lines playing up the stereotypes of the ruthless Conservatives and hippy Lib Dems rather surprised to find some of their members in Cabinet. Co-creator Khan is a Labour councillor so might be expected to have some insight into how parties see each other – even if he takes a bit of a liberty with the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 to be able to pull off a crucial plot point.

As the pressure ramps up, things become more interesting – and more funny; starting with the watershed moment when we meet the prospective candidate parachuted in to fight that crucial by-election against the defector Webb. John Dorney puts in an hilarious turn as a twitchy, dim, alcoholic lawyer as the increasingly worried party elite watch him rehearse what he will say on the stump.

Although it’s an enjoyable hour with great-to-fantastic performances, Coalition doesn’t get the full vote, because of its looser moments, and because it doesn’t manage to take us into new territory. There’s something of the feeling that we’ve seen all this conniving political satire before – even if the parties and the situations are slightly different. But still a decent effort.

Review date: 8 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Dome

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