Cherie Blair has been somewhat of an enigma. Unpopular in the press, society mistakenly dismiss her as ‘Tony Blair’s wife’ or ‘Tony Booth’s daughter’. They vilify her clothes, her hair, her friends, her politics. And in this production, Lloyd Evans has created a masterstroke of ingenuity which presents historical and political accuracy interspersed with satire, allowing us to finally see the woman behind the man. Mary Ryder excels as Cherie, a consummate professional who wears the part like she was born for it.
An articulate, intimate audience with one of the most understatedly formidable women of the 21st century
Ryder regales us with tales of childhood Cherie, an over-achiever desperate to beat the competition. In heart rending moments, we learn about her tumultuous daddy issues which drove that sense of being the best. Conundrums such as how she avoided a Scouse accent are revealed, and we hear of her ascent to qualifying as a Barrister. We discover the birth of her own political leanings, which - quelle surprise - existed long before Tony Blair was on the scene. What she found in Blair was the second half of ‘a team with a dual purpose… to change the world’. And change that world they did, though undoubtedly not in the way intended!
There’s an articulate intimacy in Ryder’s delivery which means we can imagine the setting is two friends reminiscing over a bottle of wine. As she justifies Blair’s part in the Iraq war, just as the real Cherie undoubtedly would, we want to reach over - glass swilling - to argue that ‘no, that boy’s no good’! We learn more about what it was like for Cherie at that time; protestors outside the door of the family home for two years straight. And most poignantly, Ryder coquettishly questions how it could all have been so different if - conversely - she had run as MP for Sedgefield and Tony had run as MP for North Thanet.
Lloyd Evans has excelled in the writing of this performance. By the end, we have a real empathy for Cherie and a sense of knowing a little more of who she was - a driven, intelligent woman vilified by a hostile media. The only thing missing from the script is a little more about the personal life of Cherie. What was her relationship with her children like? How was her personal relationship with Tony? How was motherhood in the public eye with Leo, compared to her earlier children? What are her aspirations now? Ending the performance with Tony Blair’s descent from power felt a bit at odds with the concept of a show allowing the woman to step out from behind the man. However this can all be forgiven, given the limitations of time. Because what was delivered and performed was an articulate, intimate audience with one of the most understatedly formidable women of the 21st century.