In an upmarket hotel room, two men – one a disgraced politician, the other an ex-rent boy – meet to rekindle old loves and re-open old wounds in this darkly comedic character study of love, loss, greed and politics.
Razor-sharp, Oscar Wilde-style wit
Commons follows the relationship between a Tory cabinet minister and his regular prostitute. A reversed narrative traces the relationship from its bitter end to its more awkward beginning. We see the two men as they are and as they were, all in the shadow of the many political upheavals of the past few years.
The show displays a remarkable frankness in dealing with its subject matter, yet is still able to imbue the story with the requisite tenderness to make the audience care for the characters. The script itself is innovatively structured, moving in reverse order. It also frequently cuts to scenes outside of the confines of the hotel room, cleverly utilising a chorus of two performers to show us news bites, press conferences and intimate moments that shed further light on the backstory and motivations of our two leads.
The greatest strength of the script is its characters. Eschewing easy stereotypes of the dishonourable and sleazy politician and the good and innocent sex worker, instead we are shown two fully-realised, complex individuals, each with their own faults, virtues and motivations. Their relationship is centre stage here, and watching the two navigate their emotions and conflicts is riveting, helped by the razor-sharp, Oscar Wilde-style wit playwright Elliot Douglas imbues them with that left the audience frequently reeling with laughter.
Strong performances by the entire cast helps buttress the script's already superb work. The actors bring subtle emotional changes, body language and a confident grasp of the dialogue that really brings the personalities of two men alive on stage. There is a chemistry in their intimate interactions, something many actors fail to bring to depictions of same sex couples.
Whilst the script shines as a character study, however, it begins to fall apart when it attempts to link the actions of its protagonists to wider political issues. The fact our Tory minister supported the E.U. Referendum is used to attempt to shoe horn in some kind of commentary about Brexit or wider British political culture into the proceedings, but it is very underdeveloped and feels like an afterthought. The commentary never goes beyond ‘Wow, aren't politicians greedy and selfish.
Commons may not be the great piece of political commentary it wished to be, but there is still more than enough good to heartily recommend it to curious audiences this festival.