Review: Farragut North, Southwark Playhouse

“The question you gotta ask yourself is do you want friends or whether you want to work for the president?”

Beau Willimon may now be better known for his screen work – he was head writer on the Netflix House of Cards and also penned Oscar-nominated film The Ides of March – but he started in the theatre and that film was actually based on a play, Farragut North. Its contemporary Washington machinations are based on his own experiences working on a failed presidential campaign but as with so many takes on modern politics, the shadow of the real thing looms large.

Stephen Bellamy is a highly ambitious political campaigner, working for a major candidate for the Democrat party’s presidential nomination and at the age of 25, already a seasoned old hand of 10 years’ experience. But in the world of spin, people are more concerned about scoring the advantage rather than doing the decent thing and the trust and loyalty that Stephen cared so little for on the way up the greasy pole, bites back with a vengeance on the way down.

The play is entertaining enough but rather schematic in the end, there’s little that genuinely surprises and it does begin to feel somewhat predictable, lacking the cutting edge that would make it zing off the stage. Guy Unsworth’s production tries its best to infuse a Mamet-like sharpness but despite the best efforts of his cast, it never quite achieves that level. The plot twists and turns pleasingly, demonstrating the cyclical nature of this world, but the proselytising does wear thin. 

Max Irons is a handsome chap indeed and makes Bellamy all-too-watchable, though the quality of his acting also suggests that this won’t be the last we see of him, a promising talent indeed. And there’s strong work too from Aysha Kala as confident intern Molly, Rachel Tucker’s embittered journalist and particularly Josh O’Connor’s cunning young Ben who watches the wheel turn with the keenest of eyes. An interesting piece of writing if not quite essential, but always good to see fresh takes on our political systems. 

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photo: Robert Workman

Booking until 5th October

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