The Donmar Warehouse’s latest dramatic venture The Vote is its most ambitious to date.
While the large cast and topical subject matter present director Josie O’Rourke with distinct challenges, it is the logistics of the play that must be giving her the biggest headache. On May 7th The Vote will have to be performed nigh on flawlessly because it is being broadcast live on More 4.
A scheduling cock-up on one of the biggest televisual nights of the year would be nothing short of a nightmare. But a star-studded cast that includes Mark Gatiss, Judy Dench, Catherine Tate and Nina Sosanya should help Channel 4 executives to sleep easy in the nights preceding the election. May 7th will be the play’s first and final night when fixed rigs cameras set up around the theatre will film the whole thing. But for this series of preview shows in the fortnight running up to election night there is not a video camera to be seen. The ensemble cast have the chance to perfect their delivery and, just as importantly, their timing.
After a vote in a mock-up ballot box and a brief introduction from O’Rourke and writer James Graham, the play shrieks into life and the pace doesn’t let up throughout. The action takes place during the ninety minutes leading up to the sealing of the ballot box and revolves around three polling officers, played by Gatiss, Tait and Sosanya, as they attempt to maintain order in an increasingly frantic polling station. With different members of the local community arriving to cast their vote, matters get increasingly out of hand as Gatiss and co. try to maintain order and preserve the sanctity of the ballot box.
Where the play most succeeds is in its boundless energy. This is in part due to strong cameo performances from an all-star cast – a bumbling Timothy West almost steals the show every time he shuffles on stage – but much of the credit must go to Graham for his razor-sharp script. Graham manages to reference (briefly) every prime minister since Churchill, give a potted history of electoral reform, and imbue the play’s forty-odd characters with sufficient depth while still keeping the gags coming thick and fast. On the occasions when a joke didn’t quite hit its mark, the large cast meant that another character was soon bustling on stage to pick up the slack. The dynamism of the production was such that any slight misjudgements in tone, of which there were few, were quickly forgotten.
That the play touches upon almost every major trope of the 2015 election without becoming ponderous is a testament to its success. And as a preview for May 7th it was nothing short of a triumph. Here’s hoping that on a night that promises to be largely unpredictable, The Vote will still manage to run like clockwork.
Reviewed by Ant Adeane
The Vote is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 7 May 2015