Farragut North at Southwark Playhouse
Set in sub-zero Iowa during two days in January 2012, Beau Willimon’s insightful political drama (subsequently adapted into George Clooney’s Oscar nominated film The Ides of March) gives a chilling examination of the ramifications of choice, within a fictionalised Democratic presidential campaign.
At the ripe old age of 25, Steven Bellamy is already a campaign veteran, a smooth-talking spin-master with his candidate ahead in the polls, the adoration of boss and mentor Paul Zara and the national press eating out of his hand. Then our communications guru answers a call from rival campaign manager Tom Duffy and soon finds his loyalties tested as his world spins out of control.
Farragut North (inspired by Willimon’s experience of working for Senator Howard Dean during his 2004 bid for the White House) is a very enjoyable if slightly predictable play with a strong and entertaining cast.
Max Irons, son of legendary actor Jeremy, delivers an impressive, at times enthralling, portrayal of protagonist Steven; his key scenes with “bit of a bitch” Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Rachel Tucker) and a devious Andrew Whipp as Tom Duffy are particularly compelling. Ex-EastEnder Shaun Williamson adds the right amount of salt and weather-beaten weariness to his version of boss Paul Zara and Josh O’Connor shines through as the younger “wannabe Steve”, Ben Fowles.
Mr Willimon’s dialogue is witty, foul and fast-paced, laden with clever insider know-how. But the characters never quite manage to break out of their archetypal moulds, feeling more like pawns, constructed for Mr Willimon’s brief study in loyalty and trust, than three-dimensional string pullers indulging in political back-room dirty dealings.
Added to that, none of the major players have many redeeming qualities. While it’s easy to understand Steven’s interest in teenage intern and sexual conquest Molly (played efficiently by Aysha Kala), you can’t really invest in them – in fact it’s challenging to care about any of these unlikeable power hungry rats, as they transition from gnawing the decaying cheese of power to devouring each other. While this is part of the point, demonstrating the continuously addictive allure of power and its crushing consequences, characters with a few more idiosyncrasies would be more effective.
Director Guy Unsworth does utilise the intimate space and stark sets very well (Steven’s solo drinking scene has tremendous impact) and his effective use of lighting and sound certainly enhanced the experience.
Photos: Robert Workman
Farragut North is on at Southwark Playhouse until 5th October 2013, for further information or to book visit here.