From slumber to standing ovation

We just came across this show report from the 2ND MAY 1997 tour. The notes - particularly no.6 - made us giggle, so we thought we'd share...

2nd May 1997
Show Report 34

Date: Tuesday 20/10/09 House No:78
Venue: Palace Theatre, Watford
Stage Manager (on the book): Nick Hayman
Duty Tech: Dan Frost

Up Down Time
Part 1 19.48 20.20 32 min
Part 2 20.22 20.50 28 min
Part 3 20.51 21.21 30 min

Total playing time: 1 hour 30 min
Total running time: 1 hour 33 min

Present- George Perrin, Anna Eveleigh, Caroline Dyott (Bush Theatre).
1. A latecomer was admitted by FOH staff during the opening sequence, despite FOH clearance having been given. CSM to liase with FOH staff to prevent this happening again.
2. There was a crash from the back row of the auditorium (DS side) towards the end of Part One – cause unknown.
3. A wrist-watch ‘hour’ beep was heard during Part Three.
4. One of the pillows fell halfway off the stage during Part Two – it remained there until the scene change into Part Three when it was cleared by Mr Samuel.
5. Technically a clean show.
6. A very attentive house, with the exception of one audience member, unfortunately seated in the front row, who slept through Part One, only to reawaken for Part Two and Three and give an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end - in front of a lighting boom. Two calls taken.
7. Following the performance there was a very well-attended post-show discussion, led by Mr Perrin and involving the majority of the acting company.

Five stars in Watford

2nd May 1997 Production Photos 034

We're made up with the review of 2ND MAY 1997 from The Watford Observer. Critic Melanie Dakin reckoned it was "utterly enlivening" and gave it the full five stars.

Melanie hung around for the post-show Q&A the night she reviewed the show, and reports some audience comments:

“It’s somewhere we’ve all been - it’s very beautifully done and also very intimate”

“I was riveted to every word; it was almost televisual"

“There’s something wrong with our society that we can’t make more plays like this”

Melanie's own opinion was:

"Jack Thorne’s utter mastery of the human drama are what make this play so surprising, so entertaining, utterly enlivening and a piece of theatrical enlightenment that deserves to run and run."

Thanks Melanie. We're thrilled you enjoyed it.

2ND MAY 1997 on tour

2nd May 1997 Production Photos 100

Following its sell-out run at The Bush, 2ND MAY 1997 heads out on the road this week. First up we're excited to return to Watford Palace Theatre, where we are a Creative Associate Company, followed by three nights at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester. Then next week we play seven performances at The Royal Exchange in Manchester.

Here are all the details:

20 - 21 October 
Watford Palace Theatre
book tickets

22 - 24 October 
The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
book tickets

27 - 31 October 
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
book tickets

If you're London based and missed the show at The Bush, Watford is a mere 10 minutes from Euston so there's your chance. And we look forward to seeing everyone in Colchester and Manchester who have seen our shows before.

Just a reminder what the critics said:

“Playwright Jack Thorne elegantly refracts the early hours of Blair through three very different relationships...A superb 90 minutes.”
**** Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard

“George Perrin's beautifully acted production…an evening of gorgeous, understated naturalism that captures one historic night.”
**** Claire Allfree, Metro

"Rising playwright Jack Thorne takes us back in time with such quiet profundity and verve you get a burst of inspiration to match the uplift of those distant days."
**** Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph

There's more information on the show and the tour on our website here.

Sally Phillips stars in 2ND MAY playwright responses

Our final fabulous free 2ND MAY 1997 post-show event at The Bush is this Monday 5 October.

We've asked some of the best playwrights in the business to write a short monologue or duologue in response to 2ND MAY 1997 which will be performed following the show on Monday at around 9:20pm. The event is free to ticket holders for the show.

We've got five incredible actors performing, including the amazing Sally Phillips and Ian Charleson Award nominee John Heffernan.

Here's the line-up:

Labour Pains by James Graham

Starring Rebecca Oldfield (Is Everyone OK?, When Cheryl Was Brassic)

I Saw This and Thought of You by Penelope Skinner
Starring Alison O'Donnell (Dolls, The Assasination of Paris Hilton)

Selection by Jack Thorne
Starring John Heffernan (Carrie's War, Major Barbara)

Maybe It's a Sliding Scale by Joel Horwood
Starring Sally Phillips (Smack The Pony, Bridgt Jones's Diary) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (2nd May 1997, Is Everyone OK?)

So get yourself a ticket for the show and stay on afterwards for what promises to be a night of theatrical treats.

SEA WALL returns to London

The incredible SEA WALL by Simon Stephens, directed by our AD George, returns to London next week for ten performances following its sell-out Edinburgh run at The Traverse in the summer.

If you haven't seen it yet, beat a path to The Bush at The Library to see Andrew Scott's breathtaking performance. You can buy tickets here.

SEA WALL is part of the launch of The Bush at the Library - a new script reference library which will be housed at 7 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, W12 8LJ from 5 October. Drop by to browse through an extensive collection of scripts and performing arts related books.

And if you haven't seen 2ND MAY 1997 yet, you can see both SEA WALL (6:30pm) and 2ND MAY 1997 (7:30PM) in one evening on Wednesday 7 October only.


2ND MAY 1997 Review Highlights

Well, pretty much all the reviews are now in, so here's a round-up of the best bits:

“Playwright Jack Thorne elegantly refracts the early hours of Blair through three very different relationships...A superb 90 minutes.”
**** Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard

“George Perrin's beautifully acted production…an evening of gorgeous, understated naturalism that captures one historic night.”
**** Claire Allfree, Metro

"Rising playwright Jack Thorne takes us back in time with such quiet profundity and verve you get a burst of inspiration to match the uplift of those distant days."
**** Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph

"[Phoebe Waller-Bridge] She’s good, very good, very good indeed."

**** Benedict Nightingale, The Times

"The acting is impeccable in George Perrin’s production, performed on a catwalk stage replete with segueing double bed...the dialogue is rich in character detail and shines a spotlight on some humble but significant untold stories from the night a nation dared to dream."
**** Theo Bosquet,

“I'd happily see more of any of Thorne's one-night bedfellows, especially when they perform this well.”

**** Caroline McGinn, Time Out

"Not only are the two young actors very good but the mood oscillates between optimism and sadness as if to suggest that Labour's bright new dawn would eventually give way to the disillusionment of reality."
*** Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Catches the poignancy of hope and disillusion … beautifully delivered in George Perrin’s delicate production.
*** Sarah Hemming, Financial Times

“Beautifully, tenderly directed in a traverse staging by George Perrin…and superbly acted by veterans and debutants alike, this is an outstanding compelling 90 minutes.”

Carole Woddis, ReviewsGate

Post-Show Panel Discussion tonight

We've assembled a top notch panel of political commentators for tonight's 2ND MAY 1997 post-show discussion.

Joining playwright Jack Thorne on stage will be former Conservative MP Gyles Brandreth, who lost his seat on 2nd May 1997, Professor Brian Cathcart, author of seminal book on the election Were You Still Up For Portillo?, and Scott Macdonald who is chair of London Liberal Youth. The panel will be chaired by Josie Rourke, artistic director of The Bush Theatre.

Did New Labour live up to the promise of 1997? What are the important issues that lie ahead for the general election in 2010? Come and hear the opinions of the panellists in what promises to be a thrilling debate.

Entry is free to ticket holders to the performance, which starts at 7:30pm with the post-show debate folling on at around 9:20pm. You can buy tickets here.

2ND MAY 1997 trounces £5.2m Ben Hur

We enjoyed reading Sunday Express critic Mark Shenton's Stage blog this week. He watched BEN HUR the night after coming to see 2ND MAY 1997, and despite the reputed £5.2m cost of the arena spectacular, he much preferred our somehwat more frugal offering at The Bush.

Mark writes: "Of course the close-up intensity of a Bush-like experience - available to only 70 or 80 spectators a night - is never going to be the same as one built for an arena of over 11,500 or so; but at a mere fraction of the production cost and also ticket price (up to £115 for Ben Hur, up to £15 at the Bush), audiences at the Bush are getting a far more enriching experience on every level."

Thanks Mark, we're glad you enjoyed the show. And if the producers of BEN HUR are reading and want some quality return on investment in future, we reckon we could stage 104 shows on a similar scale to 2ND MAY 1997 with the loot they sunk into their current venture...

Incidentally, and we're not just saying this coz he was nice to us, you should follow @ShentonStage on Twitter for Mark's regular and always interesting theatre tweets.

More great reviews for 2ND MAY 1997

Some more high praise for our current production of 2ND MAY 1997 in the latest reviews to hit the newstands.

"A superb 90 minutes," was Fiona Mountford's verdict in her four star review in The Evening Standard.

"Playwright Jack Thorne elegantly refracts the early hours of Blair through three very different relationships, introducing us to six uneasy souls who were, in various senses of the famous phrase, still up for Portillo. Here, the political cannot help but be personal," writes Fiona.

"The wonderfully intimate design puts a double bed centre stage, on which Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour supporters each take their refreshingly uncontrived turns. Director George Perrin has the confidence not to rush things but to allow this slow-burning yet richly rewarding drama the pauses and silences that it demands."

Credit from Fiona too for "the terrific Phoebe Waller-Bridge", who she appraised as "a bundle of unpredictable energy and unspecified trauma."

In Metro, Claire Allfree's four star review described the show as "an evening of gorgeous, understated naturalism that captures one historic night."

She says: "Thorne's poetic drama is concerned with the private negotiations of relationships, at the point at which they intersect with politics, and with the momentous date invoked as a literal and symbolic force for some sort of personal reckoning."

Praise too for "George Perrin's beautifully acted production."

There were only three stars in the Financial Times, but praise nevertheless from Sarah Hemming.

"Jack Thorne’s new play at the Bush, intriguingly, is not an exercise innostalgia or a political critique of Tony Blair’s New Labour. Instead, Thorne takes a momentous day in politics and looks at the way six people experience it.

"It is a curious play, but also a humane one that catches the poignancy of hope and disillusion. And it is beautifully delivered in George Perrin’s delicate production."

Sarah writes "there is a tenderness about it that is most attractive as it quietly ponders winners and losers, dawns and false dawns," and picks out "a difficult scene... excellently handled by Hugh Skinner and Phoebe Waller-Bridge," and Jamie Samuel who "movingly conveys his silent heartbreak".

If you've seen the show, tell us what you think by posting a comment below. If you haven't, then please do. You can get tickets here.


Here's some before and after photos of the boys in the 2ND MAY 1997 cast getting their show haircuts...

IMG_0118 Hugh Skinner looks faintly unimpressed as his carefully coiffed locks are shorn. Assistant Director Joe Murphy looks on with the cameraphone, in need of a trim himself!

IMG_0113 James Barrett fears for his barnet as his turn for trimming arrives


Hugh's happy now


James sports some new 90s curtains

2ND MAY 1997 Post-Show Events

We’ve got some very special FREE Post-Show events lined up for you tonight and for the next two Mondays...

Monday 21 September – Oxford School of Drama

Join us for a performance of a provocative piece of verbatim theatre created in response to the 2ND MAY 1997 by students from the Oxford School of Speech and Drama. Hear what happened when a group of 5 students went out and interviewed various people, from the man on the street to political activists to David Cameron’s private secretary, asking questions such as, ‘Why do you vote?’ and, ‘If you could say one thing right now on the floor of the House of Commons, what would it be?’ The result is a fascinating montage of opinion on the state of politics, and the public’s engagement with politics, in this country. 

Monday 28 September – In Conversation
Did New Labour live up to the promise of 1997? What are the important issues that lie ahead for the general election in 2010? Playwright Jack Thorne joins a panel of political commentators - including former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth, who lost his seat on 2nd May 1997 - for an exciting evening of political debate chaired by Bush Artistic Director Josie Rourke.

Monday 5 October – Playwrights respond to 2nd MAY 1997
Playwrights including Penelope Skinner, Joel Horwood, and James Graham have each written a 5 minute play in response to 2ND MAY 1997 which will be directed by Joe Murphy.  Come and see some of the UK’s finest writers respond to the questions Jack Thorne opens up in his play. 

All events start after the end of the performance at approximately 9.15pm and run for 30 minutes. Free to 2ND MAY 1997 ticket holders.

Reviews, reviews, reviews


We've been ransacking the newsagents for the past 24 hours as the reviews of 2ND MAY 1997 have rolled off the presses. We're thrilled to say they've largely left us jumping for joy.

Four stars from Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph, who says "rising playwright Jack Thorne takes us back in time with such quiet profundity and verve you get a burst of inspiration to match the uplift of those distant days."

He goes on to praise the "beautifully played" and "excruciating and captivating" scenes, before ending with this rather erudite summary:

"In the Edenic dawn of that brave new world, Thorne detects a fundamental flaw in the plan: human nature."

Four stars too from Benedict Nightingale in The Times who said the play "focuses on the hopes and frustrations of characters who, especially in one case, are refreshingly well played."

The one case singled out by Mr Nightingale was Phoebe  who garned some quite unequivocal praise: "She’s good, very good, very good indeed."

There were some chiding words for us though:

"The company responsible is called nabokov, which is irritating, partly because of that naff lower-case, partly because the link with the author of Lolita is obscure, and partly because the troupe doesn’t fulfil its aim, which is to present 'backlash theatre, new work that offers an antagonistic response to contemporary trends, agendas and events'."


In The Guardian, Michael Billington says "the writing has a quiet integrity", and even though he only bestowed three stars, he was a big fan of the final scene:

"Not only are the two young actors very good but the mood oscillates between optimism and sadness as if to suggest that Labour's bright new dawn would eventually give way to the disillusionment of reality."

Another four star review from Theo Bosanquet on Whatsonstage who says "The acting is impeccable in George Perrin’s production, performed on a catwalk stage replete with segueing double bed...the dialogue is rich in character detail and shines a spotlight on some humble but significant untold stories from the night a nation dared to dream."

There has been the odd grumble. The Stage's John Thaxter didn't approve at all. He thought it was a bit like a tennis match:

"George Perrin’s transverse staging provides the ultimate in Bush Theatre intimacy, but when actors are placed at either end of the room, their dialogue exchanges create a Wimbledon spectator sport effect as our heads swivel to and fro."

But can't please them all, eh. Come and see the show and make up your own mind. You can buy tickets here.

Joe's 2ND MAY 1997 Rehearsal Diary

Here's the latest installment of Assistant Director Joe Murphy's rehearsal diary as the show opens for previews...

Hello again!  So we are now into previews for the 2nd May 1997 and what a week it has been.  Everyone has been working so hard and the results have been great!

Last week we made the big move from the rehearsal space into the theatre – always a scary time! However, thanks to the incredibly long hours the production team have put in we are now in the space and up and running. The set is nothing short of stunning, Hannah has created a very charged space which nestles itself around the action, creating a nuanced focus on the relationships between the characters.

Once again I fell prey to duck-out-of-water syndrome as I exchanged my movement leotard for the dirty jeans and t-shirt of the tech rehearsal. I even helped to make half of a prop! The prop was of course abandoned and never used but that is beside the point. I was tasked with creating a circular base from wood – however the word ‘circular’ is a strong word, the edge of my creation can only be described as ‘wobbly’.

The last week of rehearsals is always an exciting one, and ours was no exception. All of the fantastic exploratory work and improvisations the actors have been doing was drawn together and pulled into sharp focus to give the show a beautiful and rich texture. They know this play and their parts so well now that they have a freedom on stage which is a joy to watch.

Well that’s all from me for now. But please do come down to see the show: everyone has been working so hard and I really do believe it is a wonderful and touching piece of work!

Jack Thorne on 2ND MAY 1997

We asked Jack Thorne - writer of 2ND MAY 1997 - to write a blog post about his memories of the night of Bair's famous first election victory. And he did. And here it is...

I voted at 8am on the way to school. I walked up Dog Shit Alley, waited for TC, in the place where we’d sometimes meet before school and then when he didn’t show I walked into my sister’s old infant school and gave them my slip. I was 18 years old, very focused on getting on in life and absolutely certain this was the start of something special. The booth I remember as being disappointingly small, and I folded my ballot twice before slotting it in the box, before worrying that that second fold had meant I’d spoilt my ballot.

I can’t remember much of the day at school. Exams were approaching quite quickly, and after starting 7 A’levels in my first term of lower sixth I’d finally settled down to studying a more basic three: Economics, Politics and History. St Barts, my school, was a mixed-comprehensive sixth form that took itself slightly too seriously, and I definitely took myself slightly too seriously within it: I tended to talk a lot in class, I was probably talking even more that day. Every one knew I was very political – and were very bored with it - we’d had a mock election at school, and I’d stood for candidate for the Labour Party. I’d lost despite making a speech that I thought was really funny – opening to me dancing to Arrested Development’s Give A Man A Fish And He’ll Eat For A Day, Teach Him How To Fish And He’ll Live Forever – and using this as an example of how to explain New Labour’s central tenet of Equality of Opportunity. People liked it a lot less than I thought they should. But then, people liked me a lot less than I thought they should.

After school I thought about going along to the local branch secretary’s house to see whether I could give any help with leafleting, but I didn’t for two reasons; (i) we weren’t taking ‘getting out the vote’ very seriously in the Newbury Labour Party – in 1992 we’d got the lowest percentage of the vote the Labour party had gotten since the 40s and lost our deposit – most of our efforts were focused on Slough, Reading and Ascot (all New Labour target seats), and I was hardly going to make it out there in time to be useful. (ii) I thought they might take it as a hint that I was desperate to go to the count (for Newbury constituency) later that night. I was, of course, but had a constant fear of people thinking I was trying to invite myself to everything. They were already sending me to the ‘Young Labour Conference’ partly because I was the youngest branch member in Newbury for 40 years, partly because I never stopped talking in branch meetings, partly because I suggested it.

So, instead, I went home and had toast and thought about showering but decided best not because it may muck up my hair, which was looking greasy and lank the way I liked it. No, I just put on my best red shirt, swept my dandruff from my shoulders, tried to make my gawky spotty face look like Jarvis Cocker and waited for 8pm.

Me and my ‘mate’ QD were due to meet outside the Candy Box at 8. This was an era before mobile phones, so when he didn’t turn up til 9 I just had to wait. The Candy Box was kind of a spiritual home, a place of firsts, first fag, first snog, first breast. But that said, on a cold night, wearing only a suede jacket over a thin red shirt it was kind of a shit place to be stuck. He didn’t apologize for being late, he sort of didn’t need to, he knew I was lucky to be spending the night with him. While I was very confident in class and in school, out of school all my confidence would leave me. Like Lazarus, I was nothing without a school tie on.

We went to John Menzies and bought 10 cans of White Lightening for £5 and then took a taxi from the rank to AG’s house. She lived too far out of town (Newbury is quite a rural place) to walk, and there were no buses, and it cost us £2.80 each. This meant the evening cost £7.80 in total, a lot of money considering I was only earning £2.70 an hour at MacDonald’s at the time. I’d grown used to using an hour’s salary as a unit of currency in my head. Tonight was costing me three hours of compacting sweaty bins, frying salty fries and peeling gerkins of greasy windows.

AG’s parents were at an election night party themselves, so we settled in the living room. We turned on BBC1 and opened our first can and then, slowly, the greatest night of my life unfolded....
I don’t think I’ve ever had a night like the night of the 2nd May 1997. I’d like to think myself as being very individual but the truth is I’m very much one of those people who likes being part of a team. If you gave me a t-shirt and told me I was in ‘team A’ within a week I’d be ostracising anyone who was in team B. Put me in Lord of the Flies and I wouldn’t be Jack or Ralph, other than in very specific school situations I don’t have the leadership skills, but I would just behind them screaming at them to ‘kill the beast, cut it’s throat, spill it’s blood’. But the biggest team I’ve ever been part of  is the Labour Party. And on that night my team didn’t just win, it annihilated. It was 1966 for me, and the Tory party was Germany.

Since then, obviously, my team has a had a few difficult moments but I didn’t want this to be a play about judging Blair (I’m kind of bored of those plays, and I’m not as clever as David Hare) rather I wanted this to be a play about one of the most significant nights in the history of this country that I’ve lived through. An opportunity to reflect if you like what it felt like at the beginning, leaving the audience to make any judgements they like about what it means for the end. Within a year the era of New Labour will probably be over. I wanted to write something about what it felt like at the beginning. About what it felt like for all three parties, without making judgements on any of them.

Which probably makes it sound very wishy washy and maybe slightly shit. But please come anyway.

2ND MAY 1997 rehearsal photos

Lots of rehearsal and publicity photos now up on our Flickr stream, and a few below to whet your appetite.

It's all hands on deck at The Bush as we gear up for first preview tonight!

Hugh Skinner (Ian) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Sarah)

Joe Murphy (Assistant Director) and James Barrett (Jake)

Jamie Samuel (Will) and James Barrett (Jake) get their costumes fitted by designer Hannah Clark

The full company: Linda Broughton (Marie), Geoffrey Beevers (Robert), Hugh Skinner (Ian), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Sarah), James Barrett (Jake) and Jamie Samuel (Will).

2ND MAY 1997 opens this week

We’re positively busting with excitement as our brand new show 2ND MAY 1997 opens this week at The Bush. It’s a stunning new play by Jack Thorne about the night of the first New Labour election victory.

nabokov and the Bush Theatre
in association with Watford Palace Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester present


2nd May 1997. An historic victory. The Tories, 18 years in power, are defeated as New Labour sweeps into government. From the euphoria and despair, three deeply personal stories emerge.

Tory MP Robert prepares to attend the count. With defeat looming large, he fears becoming a forgotten man while his wife Marie counts the cost of her own sacrifice to politics. Lib Dem footsoldier Ian is no hero but party-crasher Sarah is determined to make him one. Best mates Jake and Will wake up to a new world order and try to memorise the cabinet before their politics A Level class. Jake dreams of Number 10. Will dreams of Jake.

A smouldering new play from one of Britain's most exciting young writers about escaping the past, seizing the present and owning the future.

Direction - George Perrin
Design - Hannah Clark
Lighting - Philip Gladwell
Sound - Emma Laxton
Movement - Kate Sagovsky

Cast - James Barrett, Geoffrey Beevers, Linda Broughton, Jamie Samuel, Hugh Skinner, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

To celebrate the show opening, we're offering you our most cherished blog readers a SPECIAL £10 TICKET OFFER on performances between 8 - 15 September (excl 14 Sept). Subject to availability, and all that. We’d love you to see it, so ring the Bush BOX OFFICE right now on 020 8743 5050 and quote 'nabokov mailing list offer' to snap up a ticket for a tenner.

If you can’t make it this week, never fear. The show runs at The Bush until 10 October and you can get your mitts on tickets by ringing the Box Office or online here.

See you there!