This is a show which hits the ground running – a fast-paced production, directed by Michael Kingsbury.
It’s a comedy about Boris Johnson and his erstwhile Chief Adviser, Dominic Cummings, former Director of Vote Leave, and the architect of the Johnson election victory in 2019.
It tells the story of the EU Referendum Campaign and the Boris Johnson premiership from the point of view of Cummings.
This show, already seen in London and Windsor, has been shortened and updated for the Festival Fringe. The author, we are told, prefers to remain anonymous prompting speculation that it is the work of a Westminster ‘insider’.
The play opens with Dom speaking directly to the audience. He greets us as ‘weirdos and misfits’ – a reference to Cummings’s strange blog post in 2020 when he invited “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply for new jobs within Number Ten. Dom’s direct addresses to the audience continue throughout the play.
This political comedy, often bordering on farce, takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the six years from 2016 to 2022, finishing with Boris Johnson’s resignation as Prime Minister. Dom, who had by then spectacularly fallen out with Johnson, is pleased: “Job done”.
Dom denies he is a genius but dismisses civil servants and most politicians as below average or even stupid. As a political operator in a post-truth world, Dom explains some of his wiles including the infamous slogan on the Leave bus: “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead”. Dom admits this was an exaggeration – opponents would say a downright lie. But Dom’s view was that the aim was not to find the truth but to find a way of persuading people to vote Leave.
Dom, played by Chris Porter, gives a convincing portrayal of the ‘master of the black arts’. Porter inhabits Cummings’s character, and while he does not make him likeable, he does make him believable. He even manages to sound convincing when he tells us that the infamous trip to Barnard Castle during the Covid lockdown was undertaken to prove that such a trip was within the lockdown rules which he himself had drawn up.
Renowned for his confrontational approach, Cummings spared no-one and in this play, Dom has no hesitation in insulting Johnson to his face calling him a “womaniser” and “a buffoon”.
This play is merciless to Johnson. He comes across as someone with no redeeming features. Even when we are told he is near death from covid, we feel no sympathy for him There is no sign of the charm which some people say the real Johnson has.
The writer’s negativity towards Johnson is accentuated by Tim Hudson’s portrayal. He plays him as a nincompoop, a stupid pantomime villain who at one time suggests sending astronauts to the sun. When Dom points out it is too hot, Boris replies: ‘Well can’t they go at night?’
It is a rollicking rumbustious performance by Hudson which sometimes teeters over the edge into caricature. But his Boris provides us with a lot of laughs. We don’t laugh with him. We laugh at him. This Boris is a laughing stock.
Two actors – Thom Tuck and Sarah Lawrie – play a succession of characters including David Cameron, Prince Andrew, Michael Gove, the Queen and Ursula von der Leyen. It is always difficult for actors playing multiple parts with only a short time to make an impression, and Tuck and Lawrie deserve plaudits. Perhaps inevitably some of the characterisations were a little cartoon-like.
This is a comedy which gives us some insights into recent political events, but very much from Dom’s point of view. At times it feels we are in two different plays – one featuring a believable Dom and the other a ‘Spitting Image’ version of Boris. Nevertheless, it all makes for an entertaining 75 minutes.
17:20 until 27th August, https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/dom-the-play
Reviewer: Tom Scott
Reviewed: 3rd August 2023
North West End UK Rating: