You do have to wonder sometimes what makes people go into politics. Despite certain obvious benefits, it seems often a very thankless career, exposing you to public scorn, ridicule and disdain the minute you mess up or show the slightest sign of weakness. Because of the nature of the job, politicians become public property – and the public has the power to make or break them on a whim.
This is the very predicament in which Tom Crowe, the Labour MP at the centre of Tim Cook’s new play Tremors, finds himself. After a private encounter in a hotel room with a senior party member goes viral, he takes the advice of his PR advisor Lisa and flees to Eastbourne. But his hometown is in chaos, with riots and vandalism led by anti-austerity activists threatening to tear the town apart – and a dark secret from Tom’s past that could derail the attempt to salvage his future.
Though written a few years ago, by chance the staging of Tremors by Broken Silence Theatre has fallen during one of the most extraordinary eras that many of us can remember in British politics. It’s an indication of how disillusioned and suspicious we’ve become – not really a surprise after watching our politicians routinely turn on each other over recent months – that a character like Tom, who genuinely just wants to help people, seems entirely too good to be true. Even so, William Vasey gives a believable performance, managing to convey both the wide-eyed idealist, who followed his heart into politics, and the ambitious social climber, whose accent these days is more Oxford than Eastbourne.
Tom’s one of four characters who never get fully developed, despite good performances from the cast. Much like in politics, each of them comes to represent a particular ideology, which overrides their individual personalities, and consequently we never really get to know them as the 60-minute play unfolds. At the opposite end of the scale from Tom is his old friend Chris (Tim Cook), who has the same passion to make the world better, but very different ideas on how to achieve it. And then there are the women: Lisa (Vicky Winning), a hard-nosed ice queen who doesn’t do feelings, remorse or indeed anything that might get in the way of her own career interests. Her opposite number is Marie (Cerys Knighton), Chris’ sister; her activism days are firmly behind her, and now all she cares about is finding her brother before he does something stupid.
There’s a lot going on for such a short piece, and some of the plot threads at times become a little tangled – Tom’s career crisis and concealed homosexuality, the decline of his coastal hometown, Chris’ struggles to come to terms with his past or the country’s future, and the revelation of the secret that binds the three old friends together. And despite some helpful BBC News announcements, the timeline of the play isn’t always entirely clear; some early flashback scenes only really make sense in the closing minutes.
Though not without some issues, Tremors is an interesting premise and definitely has potential for development into a longer play examining the issues in greater detail. What connects all the various plot threads is a simmering anger over the growing distance between we the people and those who put themselves forward to represent us – which is something I think most of us can identify with. Judging by recent events, that’s not an issue that seems likely to go away any time soon, so here’s hoping Tremors will return to shake things up in the future.
Tremors is at the King’s Head Theatre on 2nd and 3rd July.