Alan Morrison on
Stand Up Nigel Barton! (1965)/ Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton (1966)
by Dennis Potter
Directed by Gareth Davies
Being both a fan of vintage British television and an Old Labour socialist at heart, Nigel Barton is one of my most treasured DVDs, tackling as it does issues of class, ideals, and compromised ideals. While the first play, Stand Up Nigel Barton!, is an extremely witty (note Barton’s neckless father muttering that he doesn’t want ‘no tightrope-walkers’ in his house in allusion to his son’s socially-conflicted metaphor) and involving satire on the Sixties denial of a still palpably entrenched class system, the sequel, Vote for Nigel Barton, is by far the superior of the two, focusing on the compromising road to power, unknowingly pointing towards the shameful sell out of new Labour in the 1990s. In uncanny parallel, here we have a squabbling Labour party campaigning group, torn between its essential principles and the fear of becoming unelectable, ultimately ripping its own heart out along the way. Caught in the middle is Barton (Keith Baron), torn between his coal mining town roots and the seductions of a graspable middle class, intellectually fulfilled future, partly paved by a scholarship to Oxford. Baron portrays this sense of anomie grippingly, helped by lacerating poetic outbursts via the metaphor-rich pen of Potter – his dilemma beautifully encapsulated in many impassioned monologues, most notably his tirade against complacent British society at what should be his speech in bid for election. Lines touching on the wasted artistic talents of his coal-spluttering father are particularly poignant. Potter’s writing in this second play is particularly exceptional. But apart from Baron’s deft turn as Barton, the real stand out, most nuanced performance of all is by John Bailey as Barton’s embittered, nicotine-ravaged election agent, Jack Hay. It is in this character particularly that Potter’s true incisive genius as a writer is most exemplified; Hay being a personification of the corrupted, pragmatically-ravaged ideals of the party. Director Gareth Davies goes all out for gritty kitchen-sink atmosphere. Brilliant stuff.
Alan Morrison © 2008