Life After Scandal @ Hampstead Theatre, London

directed by
Anthony Clarke
Robin Soans has done verbatim theatre before, most notably in the powerful Talking To Terrorists. This latest piece delves into a very different world, exploring the lives of a number of public figures who have been involved in scandal whether sexual, political, or a blend of the both and whose lives subsequently became tabloid fodder, meat for the media.

The play switched between numerous familiar characters, incorporating interviews with Jonathan Aitken, the Hamiltons, the Ingrams (the couple who were involved in the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire coughing incident), Craig Murray, the vilified former ambassador to Uzbekistan, and a still-bitter Edwina Currie.

Soans clearly has a knack for drawing people out of themselves and the stories were cleverly interlaced, milking considerable comedy out of small details and unexpected anecdotes; Aitken’s reminiscences about his time in prison in particular were surprisingly amusing, a fact enhanced by Philip Bretherton’s well-timed delivery.

However while it was interesting to see these rigorous documentary techniques used on a comparatively light-weight subject, it was also a little frustrating. I kept hoping for a bit more bite but it never surfaced, and I struggled to see the point of the whole thing. To be fair, there were some interesting juxtapositions, particularly in regards to the elderly Lord Montagu who was embroiled in a homosexual scandal in the 1950s, a time when such things devastated lives rather than paving your way onto I’m A Celebrity, get me Out Of Here! On the other hand, I found the contrast of Craig Murray’s contributions, who came to prominence after he exposed horrific human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, with the story of say, the Ingrams, still whole-heartedly protesting their innocence, a little awkward.

The blame placed on the media in these situations was also, to my mind, very broad and simplistic, especially in the case of a nameless paparazzo, who the play painted as a sad, pathetic stereotype, with no attempt at depth. This was remedied somewhat by contributions from the Guardian’s David Leigh, but there still wasn’t much of a balance.

Anthony Clarke’s production also included some odd comic devices. When animals were present during interviews, the actors made the appropriate noises, and there were several instances when the cast burst into song all fairly entertaining, but again I struggled to see the point.

A strong cast kept everything flowing smoothly. Michael Mears and Caroline Quentin had a lovely rapport as the Hamiltons. Tim Preece exuded a strong sense of dignity as Lord Montagu and Bruce Alexander hopped nimbly between the buffoonish Lord Brocket and the impassioned Murray.

Indeed the whole production was very slick and smooth, it held the attention and made me laugh, but it just seemed to lack much in the way of a common thread of thought. Most of these people had come through their experience relatively unscathed it seemed, many forging a career around their ‘misfortunes.’ Aitken’s talk of suicidal thoughts and the various accounts given of being hounded incessantly by the press didn’t sway me overly. Yes, you can argue that theatre of this nature leaves you to make up your own mind, but the problem was, in the main, Soans failed to make me care enough about these people and their predicaments to be bothered to do so.

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