Looking back on election night, the highlight of what turned out to be a thoroughly depressing evening was the live TV stream of The Vote on More4. The play, showing at the Donmar Warehouse, was unusual in that it had a preview period of a couple of weeks followed by only one “official” performance night, streamed live on the television. I hadn’t bothered to enter the ballot for preview tickets as I knew I would be spending the first week of May in the North East with family. However, I was determined to watch it from the comfort of my sofa, even though it meant persuading my parents to let me have control of their TV for an hour or two.
Created by writer James Graham and Donmar Artistic Director Josie Rourke, The Vote, which is played out in real time, is set during the last hour and a half of voting time in a south London polling station. The staff, including presiding officer Steven (Mark Gatiss) and polling clerks Kirsty (Catherine Tate) and Laura (Nina Sosanya), are overseeing proceedings, which see a huge number of actors, some famous and some unknown, pop in to play members of the public casting their votes. Most notable are Hadley Fraser as an extremely drunk would-be voter and the young teenage girls coming to cast their votes for the first time: one comments that the paper-and-pencil voting method is somewhat “retro” while another gets out her iPhone and asks, “Siri, who do I vote for?” I must admit that this made me feel particularly old!
The farcical plot involves an older gentleman (Timothy West) who somehow manages to cast his vote twice, leading to the increasingly frenzied attempts of Kirsty and Nina to nullify his vote in some way, breaking every rule in the book. I haven’t always been Catherine Tate’s biggest fan, but she is very funny as the inventive Kirsty, and the elaborate use she makes of coloured jelly sweets to represent votes is increasingly comic. Her on-stage relationship with Nina Sosyana as Laura is believable and the two also work well with the always-good Mark Gatiss, whose professional demeanour comes under increasing pressure as the evening goes on.
A highlight for me was the presence of Judi Dench towards the end of the play, alongside her real-life daughter Finty Williams. The two play a mother and daughter with the same name who live at the same address; circumstances mean that only one of them will be able to vote, but who will get the chance? Paul Chahidi, an actor I last saw in the excellent all-male Twelfth Night at the Globe, is also on top form as a one-issue independent candidate.
Watching the play on television felt very strange to me at first. The picture quality wasn’t great and at the beginning I felt rather detached from the action. The ad breaks didn’t help either, though I admire the efforts of those involved in the production to ensure that special scenes not necessary to the whole plot were inserted to cover them, so that we TV viewers didn’t come back to the play mid-sentence. As the evening went on, I began to feel more comfortable with what was going on and by the end I was really enjoying myself. Well done to the Donmar and to More4 for coming up with such a novel idea. I’m sure it’s not the last time something like this will occur.