Sir John Major Bewails Theatrical Pol Mockery, Spotlighting Theater's Relative Importance in UK Versus US

By Jon Sobel on Nov 25, 2014 10:41 AM EST

Sir John Major, the former British Prime Minister, has complained of negative or mocking portrayals of politicians on stage, in the process unintentionally asserting the relative cultural importance of theater in Great Britain compared with the United States. It's hard to imagine any American politician, let alone a former President, whining about how playwrights portray him and his ilk. How long has it been since theater mattered that much in the States?

Major, Margaret Thatcher's handpicked successor, took over as Prime Minister when the Iron Lady left office in 1990, and served in that capacity until 1997. He was portrayed last year in Peter Morgan's comedy The Audience, in which Helen Mirren played Queen Elizabeth II receiving a series of Prime Ministers over the years.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Four Weddings and a Funeral) will take over as Her Majesty in the spring of 2015 when the show moves to the West End as Mirren prepares to reprise the role on Broadway in a limited engagement beginning in February 2015.

Speaking to Create, a new journal from Arts Council England, Major cited recent plays such as The Duck House, The Confessions of Gordon Brown and Kingmaker along with a stage revival of the classic Britcom Yes Minister as shows that treat politicians "unfairly" and thus discourage people from voting. As The Independent put it, the former Prime Minister "expressed concern that alternative theatre is undermining the political system by showing MPs in a negative light that, he argues, does not reflect the reality."

Which leaves one to wonder: what reality is that? But that's another matter.

In London, the idea that stage shows could inhibit voting is apparently taken seriously, at least by some. Major seriously criticized "some alternative theatre" for fostering disillusion with the political system. But such a worry would never occur to an American ex-President. Frost/Nixon comes to mind as a prominent play about such a figure, but I doubt anyone ever worried that its depiction of Tricky Dick would turn voters off the system.

We have plenty of real events to do that for us.

This year, Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. staged Camp David, a new play by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright about Jimmy Carter's Middle East peacemaking. Its prominent cast included Richard Thomas, Hallie Foote and Ron Rifkin. But no one worried about how it reflected on the political system today.

Why would they? It's only a play. An American play.

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TagsJohn Major, Margaret Thatcher, Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, London, Frost/Nixon, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Yes Minister, The Audience, Queen Elizabeth II

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