Plays with political messages thread subtly throughout are not rare. Nor are plays explicitly about politics. Decidedly rarer, are plays that take recent political events and analyse them with journalistic rigour, without forgetting the entertainment value; conveying the writer’s message to the audience and contributing to the analysis of recent history.
That is what journalist and author, Tim Walker, has attempted – and achieved – with his new play ‘Bloody Difficult Women’. Walker analyses the early period of the Brexit debate through the lens of the battle between two women that shaped the debate perhaps more than any other people.
The play, however, is not just a reflection on Miller v Secretary of State for Brexit; the 2017 court case that dominated the early premiership of Theresa May – and found in favour of the applicant, Gina Miller, that the prime minister had to get parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50. Bloody Difficult Women is also a commentary on Tim Walker’s view on the forces that dominate politics, the power of the prime minister, the immense impact that the vote on 23rd June 2016 has had on our political atmosphere, but most significantly, the intersection of all of these with gender, and humanity.
The play begins by tracking the separate lives that both May and Miller have led; the former having grown up in rural Oxfordshire in a religious household, making her way from grammar school to Oxford, to corporate life and politics; the latter as the daughter of the former Guyanese Attorney General, educated in the UK boarding schools system, before building a City career of her own.
Walker highlights how a clash between the UK’s second female prime minister – acting on a sense of duty to deliver the will of the people – and Miller – acting on a sense of duty to uphold the rule of law were inevitable.
That both Theresa May and Gina Miller are women may be a fact of history, but Walker explores the depth of how gender impacted the perception of both women, and how their battle against each other was equally as defined by the men that they faced down, as by anything else. He also sought to show the horrific abuse that is aimed towards prominent women – particularly Miller – and the higher standard expected of women, than of men, in office.
Much of that, Walker posits, flows directly through the media, and specifically the powerful men in the media who women are always defined against. He highlights that neither May, nor Miller, could fully express their own views or carry out their jobs due to the powerful media men that often hold a far tighter grip on power than either the judiciary, the executive, or even Parliament.
One of those men, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, is perhaps the most interesting character within the play and provides light relief in an otherwise serious play. Dacre – the potty-mouthed editor, whose language in the play is a reportedly toned-down version of the man himself – is an entertaining character, but his role in the play also outlines Walker’s view on where the real power lies.
He is shown as a dominant figure, both in controlling the prime minister’s grip on power, but also in exercising influence over the judiciary, through the infamous ‘Enemies of the People’ headline. Dacre is also shown as directly responsible for much of the abuse that was directed towards Miller, through the invasive stories about her and her past.
Walker also posits that those same powerful people were averse to his play ever hitting the stage. In comments to London Theatre, Walker said: “There are a lot of people who do not want this play to be staged, and, in all honesty, I couldn’t give a damn. I’m determined to see it go on, no matter what”.
That is the key element of this play. It is not just an entry to the record on a period of history, but a clear commentary on how newspapers have shaped the current political climate. And the audience are left with no doubt as to Walker’s view of that. Walker dedicates the final scene of his play to highlight his own message on how the media, through the Brexit debate, has impacted our current political climate, using the characters of Miller and May to highlight this reality. However, perhaps the most key message Walker is intending to get across, is of flawed humanity’ both May and Miller are shown as daring and brave, yet flawed individuals, who were unable t fully realise their visions, not just due to political events – and men – but due to their own personal humanity.
Walker’s play had originally been intended for release in 2020, but Coronavirus delays pushed it back to February 2022, and Walker took the opportunity to alter the script and reflect on the events of 2016 through the lens of 2022. Most notably, references to the prime minister’s current woes are woven into the script, giving it an even more prescient timeliness that feeds into the force through which Walker’s message can be delivered.
With Gina Miller launching her own political party in January 2022, and Theresa May making a comeback on the backbenches through her vociferous criticisms of the current government – and particularly PartyGate – the play is a timely update of the period that defined the careers of both women.
It is perhaps the only play of its kind in London right now, and a unique way to express both the events of Brexit, and for Walker to express his own views that the newspapers have had on our current political epoch.