Tony’s Last Tape at the Bridge House
Andy Barrett’s one-man play pays fond homage to the late left-wing campaigner and former Labour MP, Tony Benn. Inspired by Benn’s published diaries, it sees him recording his very last diary entry in the period leading up to his death, and explores not only his staunchly liberal views but many other of his facets: those of mourning husband, doting grandfather and true friend.
The small space above the Bridge House pub is transformed into Benn’s well lived-in study. Loose cassette ribbon and volumes of his diaries fight for space on the desk with a large ashtray and many tape recorders. With the audience only a metre away from the desk, it’s a truly intimate situation.
Philip Bretherton captures the essence of Benn, with his aristocratic English accent, pipe-chuffing and easy affability. Through fragments of recordings, lengthy monologues and re-enacted memories he tells his tale. There’s his disgust at Blair and at Thatcher; the hounding he suffered at the hands of the press; his quest to come up with a joke he hasn’t used before at yet another friend’s funeral; his sadness at losing his wife, Caroline: a montage of a profound life. The most enjoyable moments, however, are those in which he delivers an impassioned rant. Though he may be feeble, shuffling and questioning the futility of it all in low moments, his indomitable spark returns in glorious bursts to rebuke the fat cats and praise the miners, suffragettes and struggling working class. “Who wouldn’t want to be marching alongside them?” he cries, with righteous fire. “You’ve got to be down there, not up in the clouds… I would rather die than let defeatism engulf me.” There’s plenty of humour here too, from the silly to the witty, which balances out the moments of pathos and profundity.
Those with some knowledge of Tony Benn’s history will get the most out of this play, as there are a great many political references made throughout. Those less acquainted with the great man will still find this a stirring show, and perhaps be moved to learn more about him after the night is over.
Tony’s Last Tape is on at Bridge House Theatre until 17th May 2015, for further information or to book visit here.