Tory Boyz come to town
A date at the theatre with Alan Duncan for an uncomfortably authentic portrait of Westminster life
The focus on all things "new Tory" has continued over this dank British summer, and has now given rise to a play, Tory Boyz, at the Soho Theatre in London's West End. The opening night on 18 August drew a large, very excitable crowd, as well-cut suits mingled with extra-tight Abercrombie & Fitch polo shirts, worn a size too small, for that ultimate muscle definition. The conversation in the bar before curtain-up was itself proving good theatre.
Two boys in Converse shoes, quite possibly "Tory Boyz", were discussing openly the surprisingly good-looking ginger guy standing on the other side of the room. Black Converse to Red Converse: "He's ginger, but you would?" Red Converse to Black Converse: "Yeah, but he'd have to lose the Arafat scarf." Another display, perhaps, of how the Tories are ready to embrace minorities.
A few Young Conservatives turned up from the House of Commons, one from the office of Charles Hendry MP wearing beach shorts, an outfit he considered "fine for recess". My date for the evening was the glorious Alan Duncan, Conservative shadow secretary of state for business. I was pleased to see that Alan had resisted the Honolulu beach gear and was, as ever, a sartorially elegant joy. David Cameron once said of him: "If I left home in a brand new suit, visited the barber and bumped into Alan, I would still look scruffy." He was not wrong.
Also present was the Labour peer and president of the National Youth Theatre, Lord Alli. Duncan asked him cheekily if he was one of the growing number of politicians slinking over to the Tory side. "No, I certainly am not," he smiled. Lord Alli is very game; he came dressed for the occasion as Mark Ronson, in a tight grey cardigan and thin Eighties tie.
Written by the 26-year-old James Graham, Tory Boyz is the story of Sam, a northern gay man working as a researcher in the office of the shadow secretary of state for children, schools and families. Sam finds himself struggling to deal with his sexuality, with policymaking - and with why he is a Conservative.
Graham is at his most observant when capturing Westminster office life, and Tory Boyz makes for very funny and uncomfortably authentic viewing for those who have spent time working in SW1. He hits the nail on the head with his portrayal of a prematurely pleased-with-himself chief of staff, Nicholas (Dan Ings), who has all the best lines. In a rare moment of self-deprecation, he mumbles: "I know why I'm here, [because] I can't even get a job combing old people's hair."
The truth about parliament is that it is full of very clever people earning very little while their contemporaries work as management consultants, take exotic holidays and make hefty down payments on expensive property. It is enough to make anyone cynical, and Graham understands this. Parliamentary workers are going to enjoy picking out their colleagues on stage, amid the terrified interns and the hopelessly institutionalised. Alan was convinced that the character of the sweet-natured and beautiful assistant Nina had to be based on his own right-hand girl, Salma Shah.
Tory Boyz (which runs until 13 September) has great fun with the Tories' old image as the party of personal indiscretion. At one point a whip looks wistfully into the distance and says: "If it is wrong, I can guarantee that somewhere there is a Tory doing it . . ."
The play also harks back to the question of Ted Heath: did Britain have a gay prime minister? Tory Boyz is a powerful reflection of how politics is having to come to terms with personal sexuality. These days, sexual preference is surely no longer a left or right issue: after all, who is more gay-comfortable, Cameron or Brown?