Margaret Thatcher once said of the Labour leader Clement Attlee that he was “all substance, no show”. Politicians nowadays don’t seem to be able to survive without the powder of spin, explored in detail in Kevin Toolis’ new one-man show The Confessions of Gordon Brown. Performed by Ian Grieve, the hour-long soliloquy takes place twenty minutes before the morning meeting during Gordon’s last days. Leading us down the dark corridors of power, Brown reveals what it takes to be a leader in modern politics.
Grieve plays the former PM with the bullish irritability we expect the real man to have. Even interruptions in the performance don’t perturb the actor (when a mobile rings, without missing a beat Grieve barks “If that’s Tony Blair, tell him to fuck off – and make sure you do it with a smile!”). The script makes repeated germane references to Napoleon; another erstwhile progressive whose towering intellect was defeated by overweening ambition. Yet despite all the politiking and grudge-bearing, the play gives to Gordon something he laments he had none of in office: likability. And what it demonstrates is that in modern politics, the battle is always a battle of show and not of substance.