Four years is a long time in politics. The lead up to the 2015 general election, the premise of Ben Alderton’s political satire, Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough almost seems like a chapter in a history book viewed from the knowing hindsight of 2019. By the end of the play though, we are left in no doubt that it has resonances in the past, present and, in all likelihood, the future.
In Alderton’s sharp, fast-paced script the true identities in the battle for power between the Blue, Red and Yellow parties are easily recognisable with some thinly disguised names and well-observed character portrayals. Alderton himself is believable as the entitled, Eton -educated but embattled Prime Minister at risk of losing his position, David Carter. Ben Hood effectively portrays Ned Contraband, the well-meaning leader of the opposition who is completely out of his depth. James Bryant plays a masterclass as Nick Clogg, the Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition with big ideas to give the Blue Party a human face but who ends up as nothing more than Carter’s puppet.
Annie Tyson is Glyniss, a suitably resigned and matronly Blue Party campaign manager, and Venice Van Someren, her glamorous foil as ambitious coffee girl,Poppy. For the Reds, Sharon Slaughter oozes righteous determination as party activist Cassandra Hercules while Michael Edwards portrays her antithesis, Will with whom she constantly clashes in their joint quest to see Contraband to power. Mikhail Sen brings about the only voice of sanity as Patrick, the ‘fixer’ who steps in to the chaos to work miracles. As the mysterious Corbz, Edward Halsted provides a surreal element to proceedings, appearing to be something out of the realms of fantasy and reinforcing our belief that there are dark arts and practices at the root of British politics, there always have been and always will be.
Clever direction by Roland Reynolds raises Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough to more than a simple satire of Westminster in 2015 although a rousing opening sequence full of contemporary references firmly anchors it there. As the characters interact and move about the stage, the production is reminiscent of a classic British comedy, a Shakespearean or Greco-Roman tragedy. The sight of the opposing teams preparing their contender for the climactic TV debate on different sides of the stage, put one in mind of the build up to gladiatorial combat. David Carter’s rendition of ‘Uptown Funk’ is pure farcical comedy gold as is Ned Contraband’s assertion that he was ‘too sexy for his party’ and Will’s encouragement for him to indulge in expressive dance. Poor visibility from the back rows of the auditorium, however, meant that some of the low level physicality could not be seen.
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough stands up as a political satire of its time but is also accessible to those who might not be aware of the origins of this quote. The message, that there are no real winners in this game is a universal one, for all time.