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London This is Washington by Mark Lawson

For me MacMillan is Peter Cook.  His devastating impersonation in Beyond the Fringe in indelibly printed on my mind.  What else do I think of? Suez, ‘Never had it so good’ and a certain Christine Keeler  (the famous photo taken at a certain Mr Cooks Establishment Club).

Probably not the most balanced view but then most of what I have picked up about MacMillan is mostly through 60’s satire.  As someone who grew up with Mrs Thatcher in charge, previous Prime Ministers always seemed stuffy to me, if less frightening. After listening to this excellent play, MacMillan seems a little more three dimensional.

How accurate this play is, which primarily dramatises the meetings between MacMillan & JFK, is perhaps open to debate.  Especially as the more poignant discussions are off the record.  So bearing in mind that this is not dramatised from actual recordings (unlike ‘The Kennedy Tapes’) one has to say it gives an absolutely fascinating insight into ‘The special relationship’ as well as the way a personal relationship can impact on enormous events. 

There is humour, which comes out of the old world MacMillan and the hip, cocky JFK. But it is MacMillan that is the wit , whether talking about Trollope or Lady Dorothy some of MacMillan’s lines are priceless. This dry wit sits alongside the broader humour of the initial meetings where JFK and his aide Dick seem to come from a different world to MacMillan and Timothy.

The phone calls behind the Cuban crisis are fascinating and seem the turning point that leads to a genuine relationship between the two leaders. At the same time one can see MacMillan’s governement (and his popularity) slowly crumbling in the background, with That Was the Week that Was getting a quick mention.

Of course there can be no happy endings, for JFK there was Dealey Plaza and for MacMillan there was Profumo and prostate cancer. Yet MacMillan was to outlive JFK by over 20 years.

The final section detailing the relationship between Harold Wilson and LBJ is funnier and interesting but seems more caricatured, but then perhaps they were two politicians who invite a more overblown impersonation.

The ending hinting at the UK’s ongoing reliance on the US is true but a little heavy handed.

The cast is simply excellent.  David Calder as MacMillan and Nathan Osgood as JFK  should be particulary proud of their performances.  Mark Lawson has written an intelligent and interesting play, which more importantly keeps one listening from beginning to end.

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