“This after all has been a very careful election”
A fascinating experiment from James Graham and Josie Rourke, The Vote was a “play for theatre and television” which after two weeks of performances at the Donmar Warehouse – for which you had to enter a ballot for tickets – aired live on More4 at the very moment that it was set, the night of the UK general election. I wasn’t one of the lucky few in the ballot and am rarely inclined to dayseat (though I know several people who managed it) so I’ve only just got around to catching up with it on All4 (formerly 4OD) where it is on for another couple of weeks.
I’m glad I did get to see it as it is very funny and pulled together an extraordinary cast, the vast majority of whom spend mere moments onstage. Graham’s play focuses on the trials and tribulations of a South London polling station in the 90 minutes before voting closes and though there’s a farcical plot that holds the play together in the larger sense, the real joy comes in the microstories of the various voters who come in to exercise their democratic right as best they see fit. Drunks losing their polling cards, giddy lesbians brandishing selfie sticks, teenagers asking Siri who to vote for, all amusing slices of life are represented by a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much as the audience.
And with Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss and Nina Sosanya leading the main plotline as the staff of the polling station, there’s great funny business going on concerning missing ballot papers and some inspiredly bad problem solving. Throw in Timothy West causing havoc, a cursing Dame Judi Dench and Finty Williams playing mother and daughter and a blink-and-miss-it cameo from Jude Law, it’s a striking achievement from all concerned, especially from Graham himself who was still writing scenes up until the last minute, to go into the commercial breaks.
Which leads to my only slight bugbear about the whole enterprise. The idea of it being both a film and a piece of theatre felt undermined by this revelation that there were theatre-only scenes which weren’t broadcast. Likewise having theatre critics in for a traditional press night felt undemocratic – they should have had to enter the ballot with the rest of us, after all it’s not as if their reviews were going to help sell tickets… Who knows, playing with conventional theatre structures is always going to ruffle a few feathers and in the end, it is well worth 90 minutes of your time to catch up on while you still can, to see why James Graham really is one of our more exciting political writers.