First published in The Times, Tuesday August 9 2022
As things stand, we don’t know precisely how the final chapter in the saga of the prime minister will play out. In some ways an X-Men-style origin story seems surplus to requirements: there has long been a prurient fascination with Boris Johnson’s backstory, and his shambling ascent to the highest office in the land.
This comedy, written and directed by Adam Meggido, takes us all the way back to Johnson’s school days, seizing on the legend that the blond bombshell took the title role in a production of Richard III at Eton in 1982. Showbiz lore has it that the leading man was hopelessly underprepared, busked his way through scenes of courtly intrigue, premeditated murder and ghostly visitations, unleashing chaos but somehow winning over the audience through sheer unflagging bluster. Even if none of this really happened, the story carries a certain ring of familiarity.
Like the rubber shark in Jaws, the monster at the heart of Meggido’s play takes a while to make his appearance. We hear tales of BoJo’s offstage prowess in the debating society, as well as details of his convoluted sex life. When Harry Kershaw, the lead actor, takes to the stage, his facility for Johnson’s speech patterns and tone of voice is so uncanny it sends a ripple of disquietude around the auditorium.
Otherwise, there is a pervading sense of satirical punches being pulled. The conceit of drawing parallels between Shakespeare’s tyrant and the man who as a child professed his desire to become “world king” is promising, but, other than lingering ironically over Richard’s speech following his courtship of Lady Anne (“I’ll have her; but I will not keep her long”), any interaction with the play is scant and superficial.
Rather than displaying Machiavellian traits, Meggido’s Boris comes across as a patrician Alf Garnett, mocking “woofters” and racially abusing the show’s black director. References to illicit parties on school premises, and Johnson’s mealy-mouthed denials of involvement lack bite, while the period setting, aside from fleeting references to Thatcher and the Falklands, remains largely unexplored.