Tony's Last Tape

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 Aug 2015

Cheekily riffing on Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, this play turns the aged man reflecting on his life into a tape-recorder into Tony Benn, the hard-left Labour firebrand who passed away last year. We meet him in the shadowy early hours of morning in his study, mug in hand, 'Say No to the Poll Tax' on his t-shirt. He is at a crossroads. Should he finally stop fighting? 

Inspired by Benn's diaries, Andy Barrett's witty and intelligent play—landing in Edinburgh after a short tour—unfolds as a fragmented monologue, setting Benn's personal beliefs and frustrations against the broad sweep of history. It takes in the fearful new world of the atomic-age and the free market so loathed by Benn, as well as his grief at the wartime death of his brother and, later, his beloved wife.

There's fire and passion here, as well as stubbornness and Benn's trademark pipe. Barrett paints a picture of a man driven into politics and out of it by his faith in democratic socialism – a thorn in the side of the grinning architects of New Labour. Giles Croft's production, which begins and ends with the gentle hum of rain, has an affectingly mournful quality.

Philip Bretherton is great as Benn, combining fierceness and gleeful irascibility with quiet moments of uncertainty. Old age casts a long shadow over this play, but so does Benn's charisma. This is a deftly written and nuanced portrait not just of one politician, but of an entire era of British politics.