Tony's Last Tape: A Touching Look At The Personal Life Of Politician Tony Benn

Tony’s Last Tape, Omnibus Theatre ★★★★☆

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Tony's Last Tape: A Touching Look At The Personal Life Of Politician Tony Benn Tony’s Last Tape, Omnibus Theatre 4
Photo: Robert Day

For students of politics in the 1980s, The Benn Diaries were set texts, and are still recommended reading for socialists and aspiring politicos. But for those of us who never quite found the time to plough through the multi-volume memoir, this one act play gives a taste of what we missed.

The veteran MP for Bristol South East, and later Chesterfield, died in 2014. He began a daily diary in his teens in the 1930s, recording his experiences as a wartime RAF pilot, young parliamentarian, embattled Government minister, and anti-war campaigner who drew crowds at Glastonbury.

Photo: Robert Day

This one-act monologue draws from diary entries, embellished with playwright Andy Barrett’s own fictional account of Benn’s final days.

Philip Bretherton brilliantly captures the voice and mannerisms of the pipe-smoking, tea-addicted octogenarian. Giles Croft’s seamless direction sails us through 75 minutes of reminiscences. There are jokes, sadness at the losses of his wife Caroline and beloved older brother, and pride in his children and grandchildren who kept the family parliamentary tradition alive. Benn’s opposition to joining the EU (which goes some way to explain the position of today’s Labour leader) earns a ripple of laughter from the audience.

Photo: Robert Day

Time-honoured socialists might be disappointed that the play isn't more political. The show takes a very personal account of a life in politics, focussing on the unavoidable sadness of a brilliant mind hampered by physical decline. But it also reminds us that the next generation must continue to fight the same battles for which “there is no final victory and no final defeat.”

Tony’s Last Tape, Omnibus Theatre, 1 Clapham Northside, SW4 0QW. Tickets £13-£16, until 20 April 2019.

Last Updated 08 April 2019