REVIEW: Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough, Park Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews Ben Alderton’s Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough now playing at the Park Theatre.

Hell Yes I'm Tough Enough review Park Theatre
The cast of Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough. Photo: Robert Workman
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough
Park Theatre
4 Stars
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Every now and then a perfect show comes along and the audience knows it can just sit back and enjoy the delightful spectacle of everything working just fine.  And that is pretty much what the first act of this play by the young actor and author Ben Alderton achieves.  OK, there is an opening line-up which isn’t in the same league as what follows – and I’m not quite sure what it’s doing there: it feels more like a drama-club exercise than bearing any relation to the much more integrated, tense, cogent action that succeeds it.  However, we then get a rivettingly taut, constantly surprising unfolding of an appealing story of skulduggery at the highest levels of British politics.  In other words, a play with which we can all identify.
Hell Yes I'm Tough Enough tickets Park Theatre
Annie Tyson and Ben Alderton. Photo: Robert Workman
True, it does take a fair few moments to adjust to its time period: as is so often the case with ‘satirical’ drama, this play seems to have taken a comparative age actually to make it to the stage.  So, its topical punches are thoroughly pulled by being 2-3 years out of date.  That, however, is a sin which you will be prepared to forgive, when you immerse yourself in the lunatic vision of (equally lunatic?) Westminster power politics that is on offer here.
Alderton gives himself the peach role of Cameron-look-a-like, ‘Dave Carter’: a loathesome, chauvinistic monster who seems to style himself on Kanye West (as far as I can tell – I regret to say that I’m not an expert in such things).  His diminished side-kick is James Bryant’s pathetic ‘Nick Clogg’ (geddit?).  The Opposition – such as it is – seems to focus on Ben Hood’s ‘Ned Contraband’.  A swarm of other characters comprise Michael Edwards’ ‘Will’, Cassandra Hercules’s formidable ‘Sharon Slaughter’, the bizarre, Tolkein-esque ‘Corbz’ of Edward Halsted, and the more Central Office-ish ‘Poppy’ of Venice Van Someren, Mikhail Sen’s ‘Patrick’, and Annie Tyson’s ‘Glyniss’.  Alderton keeps these characters in rapid movement, spouting his catalogue of slogans which, on the page (I read the script – published as the programme by Playdead Press – before the show), don’t seem particularly interesting, and yet which in Roland Reynold’s psychotically restless production become extremely potent and fascinating.
Hell Yes I'm Tough Enough
Michael Edwards and Ben Hood. Photo: Robert Workman
The design by Isabella Van Braeckel is fine: a smart, sleek glimpse of important chambers, where vital decisions are made.  Alex Hopkins lights it with unobtrusive simplicity, and Julian Starr washes the whole with a booming, self-important, almost conceited soundscape, which reminds us of the worst excesses of ‘Brass Eye’ or ‘The Thick Of It’.  Lewis Daniel has done the new ‘music’.  It’s a terrific package, when it all works together.
Oddly, in the second half, there is – after an initially whimsical and charming scene with Clogg playing with his airfix planes – a decided dip in the momentum.  The play wanders into a sequence of big set-piece speeches which just don’t possess the same degree of fun or invention as the first act.  That’s a bit of a shame: one was enjoying oneself so much earlier.  Nevertheless, the lasting impression of the first half does last, and it carries you out of the theatre again with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.  And how much in British politics these days, one might ask, does that?

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