Review: Farragut North, Southwark Playhouse ✭✭✭

Beau Willimon’s play, Farragut North, is perhaps better known as the basis for the fairly successful film The Ides of March. Nevertheless, Peter Huntley Productions have once again teamed up with the wonderful Southwark Playhouse to bring audiences a night of political intrigue and suspense in Farragut North. This play follows the character Stephen Bellamy, the Press Manager for the Democratic Presidential Candidate, on the brink of the Iowa Caucus – one of the few swing states in the US which, if won, is key to helping the Democrats secure the White House for a term.

Set over two days, things do not of course go entirely to plan, and Stephen soon finds himself in hot water, and in possession of some pretty brutal information that looks set to destroy the entire campaign. Whilst this might be crushing to the Democrats, it all seems like a normal day in the office to an audience rather used to depictions and plot lines of intrigue and corruption in US politics.

In order to carry this story, and inspire sympathy for Stephen’s plight, Max Irons (star of the recent BBC series The White Queen and, incidentally, Jeremy Irons’ son), needs to be ruthless, suave, arrogant, cool, and, by the end of the show, a bit of a wreck. Whilst this was achieved to some extent, an extra dash of charisma to Irons’ portrayal of Stephen may have given the play the boost it needs to really fly.

For the actors in this production do not appear to really listen and respond to each other; perhaps this was a directorial choice to convey the brutal individualism and disconnectedness that exists in this game of power. In reality, however, it left me rather bored. That said, some actors really do shine in this production; Josh O’Connor stole the show in many places as the ostensibly harmless and secretly ruthless Ben Fowles, and Rachel Tucker shone as the greedy, bloodsucking leech of a journalist in her portrayal of Ida Horowicz.

Director Guy Unsworth makes some apt decisions in terms of the prison-like set, replete with flickering lights, and the peripheral presence of a bed to suggest the sex and betrayal that is commonplace in this world. The music, designed by Pete Malkin, is also chilling, adding to the sinister atmosphere on stage.

In all, however, the pace of this production is slow, with dialogue-heavy scenes being delivered, on occasion, in a somewhat mechanical way. This perhaps renders Farragut North more suited to screen than stage – and could explain why The Ides of March was produced in the first place.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until 5th October 2013
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