The secret truth about Dom: The Play

The Daily Retina

‘Who wrote it?’ asks the Times, of Dom: The Play. I’ll let you in on a secret: it was me. If you’re selling a product, you need to advertise what you’re flogging, rather than its creator. That’s why, when my satire about Dominic Cummings launched at The Other Palace in Victoria this week, I withheld my name from the poster and the programme. Simple reason: my name doesn’t shift tickets. And a poster without the waffle is likely to cut through better. As a result, our poster has the show’s emphatic title in crimson letters beneath three shots of Dom’s face taken from different angles. This has a decent chance of attracting the gaze of the fickle and easily distracted public. It’s a split-second opportunity. Shout at them. Grab their attention. ‘Dom the Play.’ And let them go.

I learned this at the Edinburgh festival. Every year, hundreds of wannabe comedians arrive in the Scottish capital dreaming of TV stardom. All of them print their names in huge letters across their posters and flyers. Which seems daft to me. It’s a waste of ink and a waste of a marketing opportunity. Their obscurity is the reason they came to the fringe in the first place. They’re nobody. Their names mean nothing. And that’s exactly why they’re performing in a mildewed pub on Cowgate to an audience of five students and a tramp with a dog. None of them have realised that the best way to promote stand-up is to advertise the material. Tell the customers what kind of comic experience they’ll get. Don’t just plaster your ego all over your flyers.

When I was preparing Dom the Play, I maintained my anonymity

An Edinburgh veteran, Ivor Dembina, produces a show each year that conveys its content in three words. ‘Old Jewish Jokes.’ Sometimes he does a sister-show, ‘New Jewish Jokes.’ His identity appears nowhere on his posters or flyers which are printed in plain black and white. He could easily include his name because he’s a much-loved figure on the comedy circuit but he seems to relish the purity and simplicity of his three-word advertisement. I copied this approach when I took a one-woman show to Edinburgh about Cherie Blair. I created a punchy black and white poster with an image of Cherie weeping a blood-red tear above the title of the play. ‘Cherie My Struggle.’ It worked. The poster was nominated for an award at the festival. After an early performance, one of the punters introduced himself and asked me how long I’d known Cherie. (The play was very favourable to her). I told him I’d never met her and he was amazed. Having seen the play, he assumed that she’d written it herself and had sent me to Scotland to oversee the production as her head of propaganda.

Also Read:   Three necessities to regulate ever-evolving artificial intelligence

When I was preparing Dom the Play, I maintained my anonymity. For casting purposes, I had to create a pseudonym because actors and agents need to see the author’s name on the contract. So I chose the most forgettable identity I could think of: ‘Neil Green’. The show opened last July at the White Bear Theatre in south London; a lot of punters left the venue feeling frustrated and disappointed. They’d expected a political hatchet-job and they complained to the director that they’d ended up admiring Dom and agreeing with much of what he said.

Last week we transferred the show to SW1, where the action is set. I decided to float the rumour that Dom had created the production himself to advertise his achievements as a political maverick. The ploy paid off. All the reviewers in this morning’s papers discuss the possibility that the show is a two-hour homage to Dom created by the master of spin himself.

Also Read:   UN suspends some Afghanistan programs after ban on female aid workers

In fact the script has multiple authors and not all of them can be identified. I lifted a few lines from Dom’s blog but no more than that. The bulk of the script was written by me with the help of hired scribblers from an online platform for comedy performers. The cast have added a couple of jokes too – including one about the Daily Mail, which I don’t particularly like, but it works on stage so I’m happy to keep it in. Some of the gags are derived from Westminster hearsay and tittle-tattle. Who first called John Prescott, ‘the mouth of the Humber’? I’ve no idea but it’s in the script. Some of my scornful descriptions of Labour figures are included.

Dom: ‘If Keir Starmer was any more wooden he’d be IKEA Starmer.’

One of my favourite lines was cut at the very first read-through because no one liked it. Boris says that Angela Rayner ‘looks like a knife-thrower’s assistant’ and Dom replies: ‘She’s the first member of her family in a thousand generations to learn to read.’ We kept the line by Boris but dropped Dom’s. I still don’t know why. I’d love to hear it delivered in a theatre because I think it’s funny. But the actors make the final decision and if they dislike a line it’s best not to force it on them. Their instincts are probably sound.

I was tempted to recycle a brilliant gag by Simon Hoggart, The Spectator’s former wine correspondent. ‘Seeing John Major govern the country is like watching Edward Scissorhands try to make balloon animals.’ Any bungling politician can be substituted for John Major but the joke is so well known that I’d have been exposed as a plagiarist. I shamelessly filched a gag from John Wells’s 1981 farce ‘Anyone For Denis?’ about the lives of Mr and Mrs Thatcher in Downing Street. Maggie is referred to as ‘the prime minister of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland.’ In my play, Dom uses that line about Boris. However, I’ve since been told that the gag pre-dates Mrs Thatcher’s premiership, and that it was used to mock Ted Heath in the early 1970s when the Troubles were getting serious. So I can plead innocent to the charge of stealing from John Wells.

Also Read:   I’m a former Premier League defender but now I’m a COP – I spend my days solving crimes & catching crooks

I have a final confession to make. And I say this with some hesitation because Brexit’s chief architect is not a figure who attracts universal acclaim. I happen to be a big fan of Dom – even though I’ve never met him – just as I’m a big fan of Cherie Blair. It’s not possible to devote a year of your life to a biographical play without feeling a measure of affection for your protagonist.

Even Dom’s enemies can’t deny his intellectual forcefulness, his political daring, his clear-eyed analytical brilliance and the huge range of his philosophical and historical influences. Figures of his calibre rarely appear in politics. My intention was to produce a show worthy of its subject.

Dom the Play is at The Other Palace in Victoria, until 5 March

Source: World – The Spectator Australia