A lot has happened to Boris Johnson since
An entertaining satire and an excellent conversation piece.
Tom Crawshaw’s updated script tackles Brexit head-on right from the top - Boris is here, we learn, to restore national unity after the vote - adding new material deftly to the body of last year’s play. Recent events are not merely an aside or appendix; but help define Johnson’s tragic arc. This is weaved into the original mixture of biography, fantasy and satire: scenes from Johnson’s formative years and a more immediate crisis that evolves in real-time outside of the room, interrupting and disrupting the onstage action. Mayhem ensues.
All of this is fun to watch. Benson’s impersonation of Johnson’s ramshackle delivery create a host who is by turns charming, sinister and wholly unpredictable. Crawshaw’s writing, too, imitates well Johnson’s rhetorical talents, his at times powerful rhetoric and the fascinating way he fashions his own self image in the shapes of his political forefathers.
The show’s central conceit, in fact, is to re-interpret Johnson as a modern kind of classical tragic hero, full of power, fury and hubris. This forms the structure of a scathing - at times, bitterly angry - polemic against Johnson’s past and his fitness to hold office. This gives the play a singular focus and an arc that feels satisfyingly cohesive; and at times extremely powerful.
At the same time, this intensely personal focus exposes Boris: World King’s limited scope and perspective. Crawshaw’s concerns are with intrinsic failings of Johnson’s character, not with potential consequences of his political actions. He depicts Johnson as duplicitous, hubristic and unfaithful (a recurring criticism is Johnson’s string of well-publicised affairs and his illegitimate child, for example), making the work a kind of morality play, in which Johnson’s soul is weighed. It is all about him, not how his leadership would change the lives of others.
This ‘Great Men’ view of history does, though, gives the play a starkly defined viewpoint to debate and dissect over dinner. Whilst the play is unlikely to change many minds about Johnson himself, its methods, its politics and the strength of its vision give the exiting audience much to talk about, and perhaps much to disagree with. Boris: World King is, then, an entertaining satire and an excellent conversation piece.