It’s 5:40am by the clock on the office wall and Gordon Brown has some secrets to share before his first governmental meeting of the day. He’s statuesque and statesmanlike, with his red tie carefully tucked into his trousers and he speaks in a smooth, measured Scottish accent. He reaches out to shake hands in the front row of an audience which is part confidant, part eavesdropper, listening in on this monologue of rambling thoughts and memories. He ponders how Napoleon’s final days resonate with the end of his long-awaited premiership before flicking back to his younger years in politics which honed a sense of destiny and determination to rise to power. We constantly veer back to several sore points; bitterness at so many years spent in Tony Blair’s shadow, his politician’s image obsession with height (he’s taller than Blair), having a full head of hair and the lofty conviction that he alone saved the (financial) world.
As the gossiping and back-stabbing develops, Ian Grieve’s skilful performance leaves us in little doubt that we are in the presence of the great Leader himself. The visual resemblance is striking, and there’s an uncanny familiarity in Grieve’s steady, occasionally gruff tone and awkward brow mopping. One particularly precious moment comes when he pulls an ancient cuneiform tile out of a drawer and concludes it probably should be in a museum but he quite likes using it as a paperweight.
Grieve’s performance is impressive and credit must be given to writer and director Kevin Toolis for creating a very believable Gordon Brown. Unfortunately, though, on moving into the second half of the show the dialogue seems to falter. It’s taken half an hour to go through Gordon’s foibles and years of frustrated ambition and it seems Toolis is struggling to find more to say. Gordon returns over and over again to the past, when there was still hope that Tony Blair would honour their personal agreement and stand aside as PM. The message is clear; this is a man who, perhaps a little like Napoleon, sees the end in sight and can only cope with it by revisiting the old battles to understand where he messed up. Toolis’ show may not be perfect but his Gordon is disconcertingly believable.