In actuality this play contains no Persian characters, but it does contain a Scotswoman and an Irishwoman walking into the office of an Englishman. Sound familiar? This may not be a pub, as the joke goes, but it pretty much turns into one over the course of the play and before long the joke is very much on this trio of hapless, yet strong minded, politicians.
It would be fascinating to see behind the closed door meetings of interparty politics and in this new play we have our chance. Written by the multi-skilled and award-winning playwright Meghan Taylor (who also plays coalition DUP MP Mary Rodgers), The Persians’ title reference comes from a couple of stories told by SNP’s Kristin Thompson (Irene Allan), during an all night meeting come boozy lock in. As the MPs hold unofficial talks on the contentious topic of bringing back capital punishment, they are unable to get past their own agendas to form a consensus. Finding press camped outside the door baying for blood related answers, the politicians agree to remain in situ overnight and opt to do as Thompson says the Persians did – debate while drunk, reach an agreement in an intoxicated state and confirm that agreement in the morning, mid hangover (an apparent way to achieve a sure and uncontested answer).
To begin with these characters are irritatingly stereotyped and cliched – particularly the Tory ex-Etonian toff Ian Wellesley (Liam Brennan). Although as intoxication sets in and each has opportunity to unravel, this setup does raise opportunity for some silly, but very entertaining comedy, funny writing and slightly slapstick antics. The party representatives are no longer at loggerheads – united in some mild port and cigar fuelled hedonism – and so their humanity can emerge, with all the ensuing bickering, amusingly appalling behaviour and genuine warmth.
Amid the comic anarchy of the play’s progression there are some more serious reflections being presented, particularly around the hidden (and not so hidden) prejudices lurking in MPs on the left, the right – and in the middle. And the consistency with which scandals are forgotten and “disgraced” individuals allowed back into positions of not insignificant power. It’s also a look at the people behind the politics, and their desires to effect change for the better – even if the result is just more disturbing, closed, dogmatic opinions and methodologies. But whatever your thoughts on the woes and ways of politics, The Persians is an enjoyable, entertaining and ever so gently thought provoking way to spend a weekday lunchtime.
The Persians runs at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until 5th May.