A New Dawn (Kings Head Theatre)

A New Dawn (Kings Head Theatre, October 20th/Union Theatre, October 21st)


Personal and political hopes and dreams clash in the fascinating drama A New Dawn which wonders where true loyalties might lie in the event of a crisis.

Political consultant, lobbyist and former adviser to the Lib Dem leader, Olly Kendall has written a bright new play which has a wonderful feel of authenticity and makes more than a nod to the current constitutional climate.

With wit and a fine degree of storytelling this three-hander takes place in a small flat where the leader of the new Progress Party is visiting her estranged wife at the threshold of a general election which could rip up the political landscape and a century of the status quo.

But the cause of the potential political upset could find her future in jeopardy as a story begins to break which will challenge both the country and her uncertain relationship.

Kendall writes with relish based on personal experience as the new party struggles to maintain a foothold and the characters are forced to decide which is the more important: rewriting history or trusting others. Along the way issues such as fake news, manipulation, integrity and the power of love are brought to the fore as social media rumours turn into hard media facts.

The overriding message in a play which makes its point without ever becoming preachy is of the value of being principled and the virtue of sincerity. The play opens and closes with soundbites from actual political figures which have a hollow ring in hindsight. Should the party or cause ever be allowed to fill a gap where love should exist?

Sue Appleby is a forceful Emma, a “middle-aged lesbian” accused of sexual misconduct at a Brighton conference. She defected from the Labour Party to create something new and one can see how her promise to remain straight and honest was so attractive to voters more used to bitter in-fighting and deception.

Appleby balances the outward show of a confident leader challenging the future of democracy with the personal trials of a woman who couldn’t even get a vote of confidence from her own wife. She is not so much an Iron Lady as a golden opportunity for a country, speaking with the security of rhetoric.

As her ex, Lucy, Sarah Leigh is the former Labour leader who had been the great hope of the party until having to resign and is now a chief executive. She is, as Emma points out, now nothing more than a pub quiz answer.

Leigh ensures Lucy is straightforward and down to earth, the genuine character with a heart after escaping the political world of duplicity and soap boxes. She sees through the dissembling with public career ambition replaced by more private desires and dreams.

Mark Donald is a forceful Jon, the Progress Party’s communications director, a prime example of someone wanting to own the narrative of any given situation, a cynic who will do anything to benefit the cause.

It is a powerful performance and, appropriately for the character, Donald owns the stage from the moment he appears, conniving and manipulating media, opinion and personal stories on the basis that they’re dealing with voters rather than rational people.

The claustrophobic King’s Head space is ideal for the story to unfold, played out on an effective set designed by Layla Madanat who also directs. Madanat, who has a good pedigree in working on new drama, recognises the insightfulness of the script and directs with a punch that ensures not a moment is wasted.

Running at just over an hour, the play could undoubtedly do with lasting a bit longer, but that’s a comment on the interesting characters and strong storyline rather than a criticism of the length.

If there are any nerves about this play, which saw two performances at the King’s Head Theatre on Sunday with a final show at the Union Theatre this evening, then there is no need for worry. This is a confident production of a well-written play, with a tremendous cast. It certainly deserves more exposure and reveals Kendall to be an impressive writer to be watched and reckoned with in the future.

David Guest