First seen last year at The Bush Theatre, Whipping It Up transfers to the west end and now occupies the bijou New Ambassadors Theatre (due to a change of ownership it will revert to ‘The Ambassadors’, from the next production). Steve Thompson’s second play exposes the venal world of the Parliamentary Whips system, his first play, Damages, did something similar for the fragrant world of tabloid journalism.
The premise of the play is of a future Tory government with a very slim majority, the action occurring before and after a crucial Commons vote, in the office of the Deputy Chief Whip. Mainly due to internal party ambitions and a conveniently pertinent news story, the bill in question has suddenly become contentious, and the whips have to use all their charm and/or menace to secure a majority. The play is actually a good old fashioned comedy, with mildly rude and sexist jokes, it can happily be enjoyed by those without a political bent. In fact, leaving political reality at the door is necessary, as some of the action is quite anomalous to real life. But as a gloriously disdainful stitch up of parliamentary machinations it is enjoyable.
Robert Bathurst is the deputy chief whip, complete with a charming public school manner, his junior is a nouveau riche wide boy with more loyalty to himself than the party. Their boss, The Chief, is Richard Wilson, a toff too, but a rather more vicious foul mouthed one. Helen Schlesinger is their alpha New Labour opposite number, with an equally devious modus operadi. Terry Johnson and Tamara Harvey share directorial credits (he did the original production, she took it into the west end), and the impressive stage design, an office resembling a public school common room, is by Tim Shortall.
I didn’t find the play hilarious or compellingly dramatic, but it is an enjoyable couple of hours spent laughing at our political classes. And despite the knockabout, it’s rather sentimental in the end, party loyalty being all for the fallen Chief Whip.