Friday, 4 April 2014

2 May 1997 by Jack Thorne

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush walk through the Cross Hall of the White House before the start of their news conference, 2003 (photo taken by the US government).
Jack Thorne's play 2 May 1997 premiered at the Bush Theatre in London on 8 September 2009, directed by George Perrin. It is set on the night and morning that the British Labour party gets back into power, and explores the zeitgeist of the recent past through three stories that unfold as the voting progresses, with a nostalgic soundtrack of music from the late 1990s. Each of these tales is a two-hander taking place in and around a bed: first dying Tory MP Robert and wife Marie, then shy Lib Dem campaign supporter Ian back home from an election party with gate crasher Sarah, and finally A-level politics students and Tony Blair fans Will and Jake, waking up in the morning after crashing out in Jake's bed. 


While having only two people interacting on stage allows for a real intimacy, it does also bring limitations to the possible dynamics, although this is compensated for by a rich world of off-stage characters and also by Thorne's ability to create links between these couples who have never met each other. Sarah, for example, is roughly the same age and as similarly messed up as Robert and Maries' daughter, and precocious Jake is like a much younger version of Robert, at the start of his life, while Robert looks back over his own, with a certain bitter disappointment and awareness of how much he sacrificed his family life for politics. While the scenes take place almost simultaneously in time, the effect, therefore, is of watching a condensed three ages of man/woman.This linearity is reinforced by the bed which smoothly tracks across the stage as the action progresses. There are occasions when time and place are disrupted on stage by characters from other scenes still being on the bed when it now belongs to the next couple, but this could have perhaps been more fully exploited. For example as it was in Rufus Norris's production of Festen, where the audience saw two bedroom scenes acted out simultaneously in the same space. 

Jack Thorne would have been the age that his character Jake is in 1997, and this play appears to represent an attempt to understand life's trajectory, how an era is formed and how it comes to pass, and how the personal interacts with the political. In his exploration of this, Thorne succeeds in transforming the potentially stock scenarios of the long-suffering wife, the man who was almost great, the brittle vulnerability of casual sex, and the pain and confusion of adolescent desire into a searching piece of theatre.