Review: The National Joke, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Phil Redmond, the creator of Brookside, famously said that he got really good at writing drama when he started writing from a point of view opposite to his own.The staunch leftie's work came to life when he started writing from a right-wing point of view.

Philip Bretherton in The National Joke.
Philip Bretherton in The National Joke.

Torben Betts, whose work thus far has appeared to reveal left-leaning sympathies, has attempted to pull off a similar trick with his new play.

The National Joke asks us to find sympathies with Rupert St-John Green MP, who we first meet while he is revelling in the fact that he is about to feel blade on his shoulders while being anointed ‘Sir’.

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Philip Bretherton’s oleaginous portrayal of Rupert is a little too spot on. Anyone with any liberalism in their heart will hate the character virtually on sight.

The family have gathered in his enormous estate. His wife, played with a heartbreaking resignation to her position in life by Cate Hamer, elicits sympathy, but drips with the privilege of her cosseted life. He mother, played by Annabel Leventon, is a monster.

The point is, trying to find the points of sympathy is all but impossible. When daughter Catherine Lamb turns up with her much older and very Socialist boyfriend, it’s another set of people to very easily despise.

There is amusement to be had at watching their lives unravel, Rupert’s descent into drink, a return to what we discover is a previous state, is incredibly amusing, but this story of family drama, fall-outs and upset would be more effective if we could care.

Ultimately it often feels like a framework for political discourse, which is interesting but not inherently dramatic. All in all, it feels like an exercise aimed at the head rather than the heart.

To August 20.