Bouncing backwards and forwards around London and it's back to Kilburn for the concluding part of the Women, Power and Politics season. Now covers UK politics from the 1990s to the present day, starting with Joy Wilkinson's Acting Leader, with Niamh Cusack as Margaret Beckett in the months after John Smith's death, when she was running the Labour Party while also campaigning to become its permanent leader. It's a rather sad piece, as it soon becomes obvious Beckett would be swept aside by Tony Blair's onslaught, and at the heart of it is the question of what would have happened if a Beckett win could have prevented New Labour and everything that went wrong with it. But there is humour to break things up, mainly as Lara Rossi is required to play all the other parts and delivers impressions of Clare Short, Tony Blair and others (Cusack herself has to pitch in and be Gordon) but probably Wilkinson's wittiest moment is in having Rossi utterly fail to do a Peter Mandelson impression, because who the hell does a Peter Mandelson impression?
Next up Zinnie Harris offers the only all-male story in The Panel, more of a sketch really, where five men on an interviewing panel are trying to find a suitable woman to give a high-profile job to (having been told they had to have an all-female shortlist) and managing to find fault with all of them. "Positive Discrimination" also crops up a lot in Gillian Slovo's interviews with real politicians, which are recreated in between the plays - Jacqui Smith was one of the "Blair Babes" in the 1997 election, who got their seats through all-women shortlists, while once again Kika Markham steals the show with her spot-on Ann Widdecombe, capturing the carefully cultivated no-nonsense persona of the woman who, of course, disapproves of some women being given this kind of leg-up. One male modern politician even gets a look-in, although I think John Hollingworth as an amusingly verbose Nick Clegg might be a late addition as he's not listed in the programme.
Playing the Game is a look at women politicians using image to succeed, and the people pulling the strings behind the scenes, told through the medium of a university student council election, and although well performed by Lara Rossi, Claire Cox and Amy Loughton, it went down like a lead balloon tonight. In the interval I got into a conversation with the people sitting near me and the general consensus was that it felt like something that had been improvised in the course of an afternoon. Things get better after the interval though as Sam Holcroft's offering gives Heather Craney and Stella Gonet a powerful confrontation - but I can't say too much about Pink because a lot of its impact comes from how cleverly Holcroft withholds information at the start, so the audience gradually puts the pieces together. I did think the play veered into slightly silly territory near the end but overall it's a good one.
The grand finale goes to Sue Townsend, whose You, Me and Wii sees a New Labour MP (Claire Cox) canvassing for re-election in her run-down Leicestershire constituency, when circumstances thrust her into the home of some of her constituents, a family who barely leave the house and have become disillusioned and disconnected from politics and the world. It's got a lot of great one-liners as you'd expect from Townsend, and a slightly chaotic tone that means it's a good note to finish on, and although at times I felt like it was trying to cram a few too many of New Labour's mistakes into its sitcom-ish conceit, it gets the job done. Overall Now has some interesting points to make, and director Indhu Rubasingham has done an excellent job marshalling everything together, but the first installment was definitely the stronger in my opinion; Moira Buffini's Handbagged the standout play in the season, with Rebecca Lenkiewicz's The Lioness a close second.
Women, Power and Politics Part 2: Now by Joy Wilkinson, Zinnie Harris, Bola Agbaje, Sam Holcroft, Sue Townsend and Gillian Slovo is in repertory until the 17th of July at the Tricycle Theatre.