Playwright Beau Willimon has become the go-to man for dramatic depictions of the cut and thrust of American politics. He was still studying at Juilliard when he wrote 'Farragut North', an examination of a young Democratic campaign strategist's spectacular fall from grace during the Iowa primaries – based on Willimon's own experience on Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential campaign trail.
Willimon later co-adapted his play for film as 'The Ides of March', which starred Ryan Gosling as strategist Stephen – a man so machiavellian he makes Malcolm Tucker look like Bubbles the Clown. In Guy Unsworth’s competent UK premiere production, Stephen is played by Max Irons – son of Jeremy, and recently seen ripping bodices in the BBC's period drama. He has much of Gosling's charisma, but his performance is a little too understated: more suited to television, perhaps, than to the stage.
Several of the other performances are nicely judged, especially from Shaun Williamson as the portly Presidential hopeful, Paul Zara. And though Willimon’s dialogue never quite reaches the incandescence of, say, David Mamet or Neil LaBute – to whom he owes a considerable debt – it does trip neatly from the tongue.
But much of the meat of the play – the double-dealing; the sassy journalist; the sexy intern – feels oddly familiar, and particularly recalls the Netflix version of 'House of Cards', which Willimon created. That's the trouble with being a go-to man: eventually, you run the risk of repeating yourself.
By Laura Barnett