WITH just a matter of weeks to go before the General Election a new play takes a look at one of Britain’s most respected, celebrated and controversial politicians.
Tony Benn, who was Labour MP for 47 years and served in the cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, was a prolific diarist, recording everything that happened to and around him for more than 50 years.
He and his famous political diaries are the subject of a new play, Tony’s Last Tape, written by Andy Barrett.
After an acclaimed run at the Nottingham Playhouse it is to be staged at the Bridge House Theatre in Penge from Monday, April 27 until Sunday, May 17.
Taking on the role of Tony Benn is actor Philip Bretherton something which he tells me is both “exhilarating and nervewracking”.
“It's one man show which is something I’ve never done before,” he says. “It has been a bit daunting but it’s been a lovely challenge and to do this as the politicians battle it out in this year’s election is really exciting.”
The play is set in Tony’s office late one night when he comes downstairs to make one last recording. While doing so he muses about his long life in politics.
“The play has been set when he’s 87 so he’s an elderly man and he’s decided to prepare a script for a funeral and is looking for material for that,” says Philip.
“But in doing so it leads him to avenues where he remembers moments from his life such as his time during the war, how he gave up his peerage and almost up to the present day.
“It’s really an amalgam of bits taken from his diaries although we don’t quote from them direct. However we do use them as a focal point and as a starting point.”
Philip says that although he knew “bits and pieces” about him there were plenty of other things he didn’t.
“I did have to do some research and I admit I went in with some pre-conceived ideas but I’ve learned so much about him,” he says.
“Many people will know he gave up his peerage but he had a battle to do so and that was quite extraordinary and it needed a change in the law – which he achieved.
“Although he served in the RAF, he was also very anti war believing war was wrong as a means towards political ends.
“People say that politicians mellow, he didn't and he actually went to office and became more left wing.
“Most get the edges knocked off them but he never compromised. It’s refreshing that he stuck to his guns.
“He was also very funny and quite sentimental too about his family which surprised me. He was a politician of his time, a conviction politician, a real character with experience and he was certainly a splash of colour against the grey suits we see before us at the moment.
“I hope those who come to see him will see what an interesting guy he was, regardless of what you think of his politics.”
But Philip warns that anyone hoping for an impression of the great man will be disappointed.
“I can’t pretend to do an impression of him as I am not Alastair McGowan but there are certain things about the vocal eccentricities he had all his life that I’ve tried to incorporate,” he says.
“I don’t know what he would have thought of the show but he had a good sense of humour.
“People who knew him said they enjoyed his company – I’d love to have met him – it would be a shame if we didn’t see his kind again.”
Tony's Last Tape is on at the Bridge House Theatre, Penge between April 27 and May 17. Tickets from £12. Visit www.bhtheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 020 8133 0311.