The Home Secretary, Archie Cornwall, has just passed legislation that will force all convicted paedophiles to serve mandatory life sentences. Celebrating in his office, he is visited by his ex-lover, Fiona Myles – a newspaper editor – who confronts him with evidence of an historic sex abuse scandal in which he himself is implicated.
As you enter the venue you are offered a shot of whiskey. Drink it. You’ll need it.
The play is tightly-written, and even though it is only an hour long, there are twists and turns enough for a script twice its length. It is a frenetically-paced piece that sees the two characters battle each other for supremacy. It's an interesting spectacle, but since both the characters are completely immoral, there isn’t really anyone to root for; you hope that they’ll both lose.
The play is presented as realistic – a plausible representation of how government officials and those in the media think and work. But this is a problem. Throughout the play, Cornwall considers the general population stupid, racist and too ignorant to do what is in their own interest; playwright Andy Paterson appears to believe that this is genuinely how politicians think. It’s simply too cynical an outlook: it permeates the whole play with over-the-top nastiness, both in the characters and the situation. At one point, for example, Cornwall threatens to ‘Jill Dando’ Myles, unless she would prefer to go out like ‘David Kelly’. Such casual use of two real-life deaths that have been surrounded by controversy and speculation is extremely tasteless.
Paterson also performs as Archie Cornwall, and is joined by Rachel Ogilvy as Fiona Myles. The two actors have good chemistry and the back-and-forth between them is superb, though their movement around the set felt a little forced – as though they were trying to get the most out of it, rather than showing how two people would actually move around an office. To be fair, that set is substantial for a Fringe production, with a paperwork-laden desk, a small sofa, and cabinets along the back of the stage. It looks like an actual office rather than a representation of an office.
Westminster Hour is a fast paced-play about the corruption and immorality at the top of the government; it is well written and decently performed. However, the subject matter is sensitive, and the characters are thoroughly despicable. It is hard to care who wins this particular battle of wits.