The political arena is a game. It’s a complex game with many rules, (most of which are never written down), in which the players jostle for position, fight to be heard and struggle not to get trampled over by the opposition.
It is a game, of which most of the ‘action’ takes place behind closed doors, in secret meetings between Games Masters, in which deals are done and tactics are discussed.
The Games Masters play by the rules – their own rules, and they make up the rules for everyone else. They sacrifice and promote their players, who battle it out on the green leather benches and in front of television cameras.
The players have many weapons at their disposal: Charm, honesty, manipulation, compromise, betrayal, bullying, friendship, loyalty, passion, history, connections, education, fashion, greed, pride, fear and love are just a few, each of which must be used just at the right moment, and never with too much frequency!
They are characters who’s mission it is to change the world, to make it ‘better’, to convince others to support them, and to take action against perceived wrongs in our society. They improvise on a daily basis, performing on the world stage, listening and reacting to the concerns and issues of the day.
Being a politician is very much like being an actor. The ability to improvise, to learn and call to hand vast quantities of information at a moments’ notice, to deliver strong, powerful and hard-hitting speeches, to deal with performance anxiety, and to listen and react to those around you. The only real difference – there are no rehearsals!
As part of research into the creation of Theatre Workout's workshop for This House, I’ve watched a lot of politicians speaking, which is something that always fascinated me. Public Speaking is an art, one which precious few, in any walk of life, ever truly master.
You have Barack Obama on one side, taking his time, slowly, articulately, thoughtfully, getting his point across, while holding, the attention, of his audience.
Mhairi Black speaks with youthful passion, enthusiasm, and rapidly advancing confidence as she makes wittily sharp remarks on the issues which she is passionate about.
Tony Blair always had a strange gesture with his hands, David Cameron with a constant look of youthful innocence about him, Boris Johnson who resorts to rambling stories when he loses track of his thoughts, and then there are the Liz Truss’ of the world who get so carried away with the excitement of speaking at a conference that her speech bounces about in all directions, creating You Tube footage which will haunt her throughout her career!
Whether you are speaking at a conference, performing the theatrical speeches of Hamlet or Lady M, or conducting improvised negotiations behind the historic doors of Westminster, the skills are the same: confidence, teamwork, improvisation, awareness and control of our emotions and true thoughts, honesty and truthfulness (or at least the impression of), a strong voice, clarity of thoughts, and the ability to ‘be in the moment’, all come to play.
Now, where can one learn these skills? If only we could teach children these abilities in school, to prepare them for the drama of life, the theatre of business and politics, the world stage.
This House opens on 19th November 2016 at the Garrick Theatre. It is a National Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre production, produced for the West End by NIMAX, Neal Street Productions and Headlong. The workshop is created and delivered by Theatre Workout.