Bookcases, a desk and files with various recording devices scattered across all the furniture set the scene as you first enter the Omnibus Theatre to see the incredible performance by Philip Bretherton as the former socialist MP Tony Benn in Tony’s last tape.
Bretherton’s acting is exceptional as he portrays the frail 87 years old Benn. Who now I believe shows physical signs of the stroke he had suffered during the period in which this play was based. Watching his movements, especially when he climbs up on the desk to change a lightbulb almost falling several times, watching this part my heart was in my mouth waiting for the inevitable to happen which thankfully doesn’t. There is also his shaking hands as he is holding his giant tea mug.
However, his mind is still as sharp as ever. As he talks fondly to Caroline his deceased wife while recording tapes for his family to hopefully listen to after he has died. The passion and conviction in his socialist beliefs are exceptionally strong, regardless of whether you share his political values or not, there has to be a level of admiration for his strong principals and enormous strength of character.
The 75-minute performance balances a historical political timeline which encompasses many famous politicians, for example, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Winston Churchill, and the fourth family generation politician Hilary Benn. Not forgetting “her” as he refers to Margaret Thatcher. With much reflection on their married life and how little he was there and when he was there, he wasn’t as he shut himself away to make his tapes and diaries. He appears to ponder on these memories throughout the play with a touch of regret.
His strong affection towards his Brother Michael Benn is ever present and even though he had died almost 70 years earlier in World War Two, he fondly remembers him as if was only yesterday.
Bananas. The very thing that caused him to be hospitalised as he has overdosed unknowingly on the potassium. He guffaws at this as he eats an overripe one he finds in a drawer. Too much caffeine and smoking the things deemed bad for you and it’s the banana that does it!
The delivery and passion in this performance by Bretherton brings this amazing politician to life in a fitting tribute to someone who unlike many politicians deserves to be immortalized in British political history for having strong principals and a passion for fairness.
There are many things in this well-researched play by Andy Barrett that I learned about his long life and the political battles he had endured. He may not have been popular within the Houses of Parliament but he realises he was to a large section in society as he reflects on the times he attends rallies, Glastonbury and Tolpuddle Marches, with a large volume of people wanting photos with him and their children and shaking his hand. A very heartfelt an interesting piece of social history which has been brilliantly brought to life within this fascinating play.
Photo credit Robert Day.
Tony Benn-Philip Bretherton
On from 2nd-20th April at
1 Clapham Common North Side,