There is an elephant in the room with Amie Marie’s mischievous comedy The Play About Theresa May: why publish a satire on May’s bungled and mayhemic term in government in 2021? When placed beside the burning wreckage of policies created by her etonian man-child of a successor, there is a risk of the text losing its relevance before you’ve even passed the cover. Marie navigates this hurdle gracefully, however; its name-sake target has been out of office nearly two years, but The Play About Theresa May is still an extremely timely exploration of political engagement in 21st Century Britain.
As you traverse your way through Marie’s reimagined civil service circus, the realisation soon dawns that May is the most fitting of our recent prime ministers to convert into a clown. Cameron unfortunately played the game too well, his machiavellian charm making him an unconvincing prospect for a fool, and Johnson has capitalised on his buffoonishness to the point where any attempt to dress him as a jester doesn’t feel devoid from reality enough to be funny. May, however, is the perfect mix (rather appropriate given that she is the bridge of this Brexit triptych): she made some disastrously incompetent blunders while also taking herself seriously enough for these gaffs to make her look genuinely foolish.
Marie pushes this comic potential to its limits by employing Brechtian Epic Theatre, from the play’s minimal set and props to its deliberately matter-of-fact title, its bare-bones simplicity making the whole thing remarkably silly, while the frequent and brusque references to real events and policies keep it grounded in the real world. The comedy also extends to moments of wonderfully bizarre symbolism (such as when May is forced into a shotgun wedding to marry Brexit itself), along with scenes of good-old-fashioned slapstick (including a drunken Farage stand-in pouring pint after pint over the prime minister). Theresa May’s new commedia persona is placed front-and-centre, allowing for some genuinely hilarious farce and some unforgivingly scathing satire.
But how is all this relevant in the wake of everything that’s happened since May’s weird departure? Her term in office is generally seen as a footnote to the larger Boris-Brexit saga; surely there are better, more relevant things to satirise now? This is where Marie’s unique voice as a queer and disabled comedian draws the bland veil of Brexit buzzwords from our eyes. May did some truly awful and depraved things in her all-too-long tenure, and there is a genuine possibility that we will forget all about them because “at least she wasn’t as bad as Boris”. Worse, better or neither, she mustn’t be allowed to sneak away from what she did and hope that no-one will call her out on it. The timing of The Play About Theresa May is rather apt, since its titular politician has all but disappeared from the public eye. Throwing her career into the circus ring puts it back into sharp focus, allowing for the dissection and scrutiny that is sorely needed for us to fully understand the damage she did.
The two playtexts are accompanied in this publication with several additional pieces of content that serve to illustrate the intentions of the work as well as highlight its general production history, from reviews to essays on comedy as social responsibility. In particular, there is the unusual but fascinating inclusion of a government document detailing the events of an “incident” in which the playwright got into character and gave a performance of her prankster Prime Minister in the House of Commons itself, which makes for absurdly entertaining reading.
The Play About Theresa May is a call to arms, emphatically insisting that we must refuse our politicians the opportunity to quietly walk away with blood on their hands, no matter how silly or irrelevant they seem. But it’s not just an academic treatise; this is political theatre in its purest form. The reflective essays and practical explorations proudly showcase its mission to help instigate genuine, impactful change for the better.