“People ask me if the play is a hatchet-job. And it is, but with Cherie wielding the hatchet. A QC who specialises in libel law came to see a preview of the show just in case anything in it might upset Cherie. He said the only thing that would upset her is that she wasn’t invited.” Lloyd Evans
I met Cherie Blair on two occasions at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards in the mid-2000s when she and Tony were on the final stretch of their amazing decade of power. She was charming, charismatic and much respected by the legal audience despite their questions about Guantanamo Bay… here was a top-class professional who just happened to be married to a Prime Minister and one who had taken his country to war on the most dubious of pretexts.
As Cherie – expertly played by Mary Ryder – explains, the war was supported by both main parties and in the ensuing Labour landslide of 2005, the party got 400 seats and over 19 million people voted for parties that had supported the Iraq War. In the demographic wilderness of post-Referendum Britain that’s a huge mandate… 19 million, well, that’s a lot more than 17.4 million isn’t it.
Were things simpler in 2003? They were certainly different and Lloyd Evans play does an excellent job of giving us the authentic voice of a woman right at the centre of the New Labour project; possibly the most “targeted” spouse in British political history?
Mary Ryder is superb as Cherie and sensibly avoids impersonating her subject whilst providing us with a realistic reading of her life in power and, indeed before. Cherie is the daughter of Liverpudlian actor Tony Booth and in the play her relationship is described as distant as he leaves her and her sister with their mother whilst off in London working, looking for work or, as she discovers, “crumpeting”. Booth was a serial crumpeteer and was married four times with his Liverpool family only finding out about his new child – their half-sister – via an announcement he put in the Crosby Gazette.
|Mary Ryder is Cherie Blair (Photos courtesy of Conrad Blakemore)|
The play raises the question of whether we got the right one as MP and then PM… who knows but Cherie was certainly the better barrister but, as she says: “victory turns you into the person the voters want you to be” and has there ever been a better channeller of public mood than Tony Blair?
There’s lots of fact and corrections in the play – of course Cherie curtseyed to the Queen she was a Queen’s Counsel after all! - and many funny digs at the likes of Alistair Campbell and Diane Abbott – “who was the first black woman MP, she may have mentioned it to you…” Jeremy Corbyn is also there – good to see in his constituency – with Cherie pointing out that he was right about the banks… and leaving gaps for us to fill in the rest of her likely opinion.
Cherie was “gut Labour”, brought up into the faith in ultimately humble circumstances, her Dad of galivanting and her Mum working nights at the chippy to make ends meet, but Tony chose Labour from a middle-class background. Neil Kinnock was also gut Labour and we know where Jeremy came from…
Gordon Brown missed his chance to line himself up as leader in waiting by refusing to stand after Kinnock resigned and the tragedy of John’s Smith’s early death left Blair no option but to go for the top spot himself: he could no longer trust Brown to lead.
It’s a fascinating perspective on a time that feels longer ago than it should be, an era when the tabloid press was more powerful than even now, pointing their cameras at the new “first lady” only to pick holes in her appearance and her choices… We get the press we deserve and the politicians we vote for; Cameron channelled much as Blair did and now… now we’re in a frenzy of self-loathing.
15 years ago the talk of the Tabs was Carol Caplin, Cherie’s personal fitness trainer and style guru… a simpler time but one in which the bitterness began and after the financial crash on Brown’s watch, never stopped.
IThankYou Rating: **** A wow at Edinburgh, Cherie now comes “home” to Islington, the perfect time for reminders and regrets and a superbly energised performance from Mary Ryder. Cherie… we thought we knew you; we understand you that little bit better now!
Cherie plays at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until Saturday 14th September 2019 – please grab a ticketwhile you can and Mr Corbyn, you can walk there from your allotment!