Cherie – My Struggle is a play about politics, but it isn’t a political play. It pokes fun at powerful people, but it isn’t overtly satirical. It is a simple piece, a monologue less than an hour long with no set design or stage trickery, but it is certainly one worth seeing. That it is about Cherie Blair should be no deterrent.
Mary Ryder is alone on stage, her Cherie a terrific fusion of authenticity and artifice. She perfectly captures Blair’s long, Liverpudlian ‘O’s, shot through with the received pronunciation befitting a Prime Minister’s spouse. She wears a pink dress against the plain black backdrop, emitting both girlishness and power in an intimate performance space. The high stool on which she perches, addressing the crowd, is suggestive of the pedestal to which the media elevates famous figures, in full view for public consumption.
The play’s title seems to be a provocative nod to the title of Hitler’s autobiography, but with playwright Lloyd Evans, one never knows. His writing is playful, ambiguous and, above all, meticulously researched. Cherie – My Struggle is filled with political detail, known and unknown, but never threatens to overwhelm the casual spectator. There is a wonderfully subtle reference to education (…education, education), while Ryder, an excellent mimic, provides spot-on impressions of Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock.
The piece is at its best when examining the role of the press in Cherie’s life. Ryder states, plainly, “They weren’t cameras: they were rifles.” It is at this point that we begin to feel more sympathetically towards her character, after an uneven start to the show. We are reminded how political wives, even ones as educated and independent as Cherie, are reduced to extensions of their husbands. Worse, they are intellectually neutered, more likely to be quizzed about Cath Kidston than Cambodia. Interestingly, Evans doesn’t attribute this demeaning obsession with appearance to misogynistic male reporters but, rather, to other women.
The topic of Iraq is bound to be anticipated by anybody in attendance, but when it does come, late in the piece, the opportunity is wasted. Ryder gestures to the audience and asks several people in turn, “Did you support going to war in Iraq?” Had this moment been held onto for moments longer, it would have been incredibly powerful, a condemnation of public fickleness and hypocrisy. Instead, Ryder quickly moves on to other subjects.
For the most part, the play focusses too much on Tony Blair’s time in government, neglecting to cover Cherie’s life since 2007, but its ending is a poignant reminder of her own ambition. For background, both husband and wife stood for parliament in the 1983 general election: only Tony won a seat. Staring forlornly out at the audience, Ryder wonders what would have happened if their roles had been reversed 36 years ago. Although the line brings out a laugh from the audience, there is something inherently and sad about it. This is a show full of jokes, but also one with a serious, thought-provoking undercurrent.
Cherie – My Struggle is on at Imagination Workshop – Hanover Suite
At 10:30am until 25th August (not 19th)
Book tickets here
Image: Conrad Blakemore