Are leaders born or are they raised? The latter would seem to be the case in Duncan Henderson’s excellent one man play The Polished Scar.
A brilliant performance that is nuanced and easily commands our attention.
On a minimal set, with only a table and a chair to create a myriad of scenes, the play opens with an MP addressing the House of Commons. In this short speech, with the use of taut, economic writing, Henderson manages to convey everything that his play seeks to address: arrogance, entitlement, misogyny…
Where did this MP’s political persona come from? The rest of the play explores this in some detail. A boy is sent away to boarding school, despite his desperate attempt to persuade his parents not to do so. The father insists and there is nothing that can be done. This is clearly the first stage of a journey from being an innocent who is bullied, to someone who does the (political) bullying.
The central character has many conversations – when happily painting a picture as a child; while brashly snorting cocaine in a nightclub, or while threatening a colleague with political oblivion unless he confesses to sexual misconduct – but we do not hear the other side of these conversations. We have to piece them together, jigsaw-like. This encourages the audience to pay attention. It also reflects the dark theme of the play: that these nameless politicians who can act with impunity are also pieced together, jigsaw-like, by their formative experiences. Some of these experiences are brutal and poignant, others are seductive, but all somehow lead inexorably in the same direction.
In one masterful scene, while preparing to be televised, our budding politician gets a lesson in how to look good on camera. Starting with smug bonhomie, he is gradually beaten down by his director into slick, characterless nonentity, becoming the person he was destined to be; the kind of politician we recognise and despise. Henderson is happy to take his time on stage, and uses silence to great effect – evidence of intelligent direction by Joanne Rosenfeld. He gives a brilliant performance that is nuanced and easily commands our attention.
The final scene gives closure to this cyclic journey, where mistakes are made and subsequently repeated. We don’t need lengthy explanations to arrive at a picture of our man (and he is a ‘man’, created in an all-male environment). Henderson’s intimate vignettes are full of life in themselves and tell a story that is deeply personal and yet strangely depersonalising in its results.