Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Double sensation

Loyalty (Hampstead, until 13 August); On the Record (Arcola, until 13 August)

Loyalty at Hampstead is two sensations in one. First, it’s a sensational drama written by the partner of a key Blair aide, Jonathan Powell, about the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Second, it’s a sensational finale to Mr Powell’s career. The author, Sarah Helm, records events unfolding in London and Washington from her unique perspective at the epicentre of world politics, in her bedroom. Overheard phone conversations and a single visit to Downing Street form the entire corpus of her research. To make the thing larky and good fun she splices the tense international negotiations with domestic jinks, flooded pipes, broken burglar alarms, toddlers with bashed bonces, and so on.

The factual detail is all ancient history now but the revelations about Blair are fascinating. He likes Paul Smith shirts and adores Church’s shoes. He polishes his footwear meticulously — it’s almost a meditative act — before appearing in public. Some wag on his team christened Gordon Brown and his henchmen ‘Darth Vader and the imperial storm troopers’. Blair’s egoism shines through in minor details. When he plays football, apparently, he never passes the ball. Dressing for dinner at No. 10, he expects Powell to wait on him like a lady’s maid. When Powell picks up an apple from a fruit bowl Blair is mortified. ‘Jonathan! Those are mine!’

It’s a pity the script is so amateurish and shambolic. The rhythm is destroyed by constant phone calls and messy little cameo roles. It’s like watching a foal standing up on an ice rink. The characters are not the kind of people you’d ask around for a pizza unless you were planning to poison it. Sarah Helm portrays herself as a posturing anti-war hysteric and her partner as a humourless PR wonk in thrall to a charismatic superstar hell-bent on starting an invasion.

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