Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
Dead Sheep | Review
On the 8th November, while Americans were still deciding their future in the elections, I sat in the beautiful Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne watching a play called Dead Sheep. Written by presenter, broadcaster and author Jonathan Maitland, this play was about a very different kind of political struggle. Instead of the mudslinging, slanderous and nastiness that we have come to expect from today’s politics, this is a story about trying to be true to your party and its leader but ultimately realising that staying true to your own principles is more important.
In 1990, conservative politician Geoffrey Howe resigned from the British cabinet and in doing so his resignation speech was said to be instrumental in ending Margaret Thatcher’s political career. Howe was not normally known as being charismatic or forceful, in fact Denis Healey once said that ‘an attack from Howe was like being savaged by a Dead Sheep’, but on this momentous occasion in one of the most famous political speeches of all time, the Iron Lady got a lot more that she bargained for.
Jonathan Maitland’s account of this fascinating piece of history takes us back to where the cracks started in the relationship between Thatcher and the man who had supported her from the beginning. Interestingly more than one theme drew parallels with today, the question of whether we should enter Europe or stay out, the plight of the homeless (a campaign close to Howe’s wife Elspeth’s heart) even the threat of terrorism was addressed and there was an audible gasp from the audience when the murder of Ian Gow in Eastbourne by the IRA was referenced.
Taking on the role of probably Britain’s most famous leader was Steve Nallon who has been impersonating Thatcher for over 30 years since he co-founded ITV’s satirical puppet show Spitting Image. Although there was lots of humour in the play, the role of Thatcher is not comedic and far from getting a few cheap laughs as a bloke in a dress Nallon is chillingly accurate as he portrays this formidable strong unbending lady.
Howe is the central character in the play yet Paul Bradly is beautifully understated as the man who holds his head high as he is demoted in government and humiliated in parliament but ultimately sheds that sheep’s clothing to stand by his beliefs. He is supported throughout by his wife Elspeth who famously didn’t get on with Thatcher. Carol Royle takes on this pivotal role and we are left in no doubt that although she may or may not been the voice behind Howe’s decision, he was certainly pig in the middle between two very strong women.
There were many light-hearted moments throughout the play. These were brought by the three members of the supporting cast, Graham Seed, Christopher Villiers and John Wark who played a variety of roles between them and act as narrators guiding us through the story with quick witted and sharp observations.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Dead Sheep. The production is timely, informative and reminds us that politics has always been a strange business. As the world awakened the next day to the news that Donald Trump is to become the next President of the USA it goes to remind us that nothing in politics is certain and even the mightiest can fall in the most unlikely and surprising of ways.
Reviewer | Sammi O’Neill
Dead Sheep is currently on tour and if you missed it at the Devonshire Park Theatre you can catch it in the South East at the Churchill in Bromley from November 28th.