This is both clever and funny. Dom – The Play demonstrates the effect that Dominic Cummings had on the Brexit campaign and the government, treating both as an intellectual and scientific challenge.
I suspect that most of the audience entered the Assembly Rooms preparing to grind their teeth / shake their fist / shout their rage at the widely derided figure of Cummings. One hour later, gasping at the idiocy of those in power, you find yourself siding with him — never thought I’d find myself saying that — simply because he’s the only one demonstrating any (twisted?) application of logic and rationale.
Chris Porter (Cummings) and Tom Hudson (Boris Johnson) spark off each other really well and a raft of other characters — Gove, Sturgeon etc — are played by the two supporting cast. Without the benefit of microphones a few lines were missed when cast members played to each other rather than projecting to the back of the auditorium but, barring this occasional lapse in stagecraft, this is a highly competent demonstration of satire’s ability to highlight some of the more ridiculous elements of Boris’s premiership.
When the play first launched in London (July 2022) the writer remained anonymous and rumours whizzed around that this was the work of the master of spin himself, Dominic Cummings. In fact it was Lloyd Evans of The Spectator who wrote the piece although he says “the script has multiple authors and not all of them can be identified”. His anonymity was pre-planned and certainly assisted the flutter of excitement amongst London’s reviewers at its launch.
Now that its provenance is better understood it can be appreciated for what it is, rather than what it is not. The voice we hear mostly is Cummings’ own. For that reason we see his version of events, which in turn allows him to apply his own spin. That his colleagues were floundering oafs is in little doubt but their bluster and obfuscation were able to stem some of his more radical plans — civil service reform, British astronauts on Mars etc.
Upon my exit from the venue, my attitude to Cummings is different. A little. I can respect (albeit grudgingly!) his intent and application of his plans. But there is certainly an element of the ‘one-eyed man is king’ coming to the fore in a kingdom of the blind. In that respect, it merely confirms (in my mind) the parlous state of current British politics.
As the name suggests and the poster makes abundantly clear, the Dom in Dom – The Play is Boris Johnson’s friend turned nemesis Dominic Cummings. What the title doesn’t make clear is that this is not so much a play as An Audience with Dominic Cummings, as Cummings, played by Chris Porter tells his story and gives his opinions to the audience with sketches and short scenes occasionally breaking up the narrative along the way, writes Andy Moseley.
The immediate problem with this is that, even to most Brexit supporters, Cummings does not come across as a particularly likeable person. The Machiavellian techniques he employed to help achieve the result of the referendum he wanted don’t really benefit from being aired in public. Indeed, Cummings himself has generally been far too clever to publicly admit to what he frequently confesses here.
Porter is aided and abetted initially by Rebecca Todd and David Mildon playing a range of characters including Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farge and Michael Gove. Most of these say only two or three lines delivered very much through Cummings’s lens, and only Mildon’s superb imitation of Gove’s facial expression gets a massive laugh from the audience. The rest of the time it’s just a trot through history from Cummings perspective, which means that he is always right and others are always far too stupid to operate at his level. The jokes don’t land because they are always at the expense of others, not him.
The dynamics of the show change to a degree with the introduction of Tim Hudson as Boris Johnson. The show moves more into political satire and away from the dry self-aggrandising words of Cummings, as he no longer dominates the show to the same extent. Hudson’s depiction of Johnson captures his speech and mannerisms superbly with just the right blend of impression and caricature to deliver humour and parody.
It also highlights the contrast between him and Cummings in real life which go a long way to explaining why Cummings could only ever operate in Johnson’s shadow. While Cummings was determined to convey his intelligence at all times, Johnson knows he is perceived as an idiot and was happy to play the buffoon for as long as it suited him. However, even here the comedy is one-sided. Johnson is also being seen through Cummings eyes, meaning the buffoonery is ramped up to ten and the intelligence is dialled down to zero.
The end result is a show that is too skewed towards Cummings’ version of events that it lacks the light and shade needed to be truly funny or historically relevant.
Assembly Rooms Ballroom, August 14-20, 22-27