As you’d expect from an established journalist, Sarah Helm’s debut play is well written and precisely crafted. What it isn’t, however, is dramatically dynamic – which is a shame as she also just happens to be the wife of Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
So although her “fictionalised memoir” is obviously significantly informed by the knowledge she gleaned during that controversial period, the main thrust of her drama is the relationship between her fictional self, Laura (Maxine Peake, excellent) and partner Nick who (whilst kept busy supporting and advising Patrick Baladi’s preening P.M. Tony) refuses to confirm whether or not he, like her, personally disapproves of the leader’s chosen course of action.
Helm catches well the conflict between the demands of the domestic and the political (red ministerial boxes cover the bed, their unseen children are a constant presence). And it’s rather worrying that Nick (Lloyd Owen) not only allows Laura to listen in and make notes on supposedly secure conversations but is also prone to leaving sensitive documents lying around for the au pair to read. But Helm doesn’t really go far enough and her mix of fact and unspecified fiction frustrates and entertains in equal measure.
Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
020 7722 9301
Until August 13
– Louise Kingsley
Image © Manuel Harlan