Boris III: a new play tells the story of a clown who became king | Theater
This is the story of a leader’s ruthless ambition, his cynical deceptions and his brash lies while his country is in the throes of crisis. Everything that could have drawn Boris Johnson the role of Richard III when he played the role of a schoolboy at Eton? A new comedy showing on the outskirts of Edinburgh this summer will imagine what happened before and after the real event when the future Prime Minister took to the stage as a cheeky Shakespearean villain.
Adam Meggido was inspired to write the play, Boris the Third, after reading an article that described Johnson, 18,’s blistering performance in the school production. Eric Anderson, a former Eton headmaster, once summed it up like this: “He hadn’t had time to learn the lines, so he stuck them behind various pillars. The whole performance was about running from side to side of the stage and not reading it properly.
So, Meggido said, the teenage Johnson “literally moved from pillar to post to read his lines”. “He resorted to tricks and clowns, improvising with the audience. That’s all we think happened. The rest of my piece is just conjecture.
Boris the Third, which Meggido will also direct, will unfold through rehearsals, the fateful school performance and its aftermath, but will contain powerful parallels to modern politics and Johnson’s weakened position after his hollow victory in the recent vote of trust. Meggido plans to tweak the game up to and throughout its August run, depending on any developing plots in Westminster.
When the writer-director first heard of Johnson’s school performance, he mistook the play in question for Richard II. “I thought, this is interesting: a play about the weight of leadership responsibility.” When he realized it was Shakespeare’s tragedy about the future ruler Plantagenet, he thought to himself that “there’s more fun to be had with it – the intriguing rise is a parallel very interesting “.
Meggido, a master of improvisation who is best known as the co-creator of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, is fascinated by the role of the clown in Shakespeare’s plays. “The clown has a very special license in Shakespeare – he speaks the truth through the appearance of madness. The clown can undermine the king or queen without necessarily being executed. It’s fine when you’re the clown but you don’t can’t stay the clown when you’re king – otherwise you’re undermining your own rules.That’s the problem Johnson is currently facing, he suggested, who played the clown “very effectively” on the way to becoming Premier minister but who now finds himself with an “identity crisis”.
Given the level of public furor over Westminster’s lockdown parties, is there any risk that a light-hearted comedy about Johnson will hit the wrong note? At the heart of the play is a serious debate, argued Meggido, who suggested that a mere bit of bashing of Boris would not be interesting for him as a writer. “Even if people are mad at Boris, he can be very charming and very funny.” He hopes audiences will experience this dichotomy of “being charmed by him and somehow repulsed by him”.
During the writing, he strove to have empathy and understanding in his portrayal of Johnson who will be played by Harry Kershaw. Supporting characters will include a fictional friend of Johnson’s who plays Buckingham in the school play, evoking the theme of both personal and political betrayal.
Comedies about our political leaders are a staple of the Edinburgh fringe who are also putting on a show this summer called Boris live at five. Created by Jonathan Maitland, inspired by his 2019 piece Boris Johnson’s Last Temptationhe invites the public to pose their own questions to the PM “for the fraction of the cost of a fixed penalty notice”.
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