After decades in the political arena, Michael McManus turned to theatre. His play, “Maggie and Ted”, explores the tensions that would lead to Brexit.
LONDON – A drama about two British politicians long dead in London’s West End may not have a clear winner. But this summer”Maggie and Ted, The Birth of Brexit“Attracted a sold-out theater crowd, including a former prime minister, Theresa May, and its success surprised playwright Michael McManus as much as anyone.
“Talk to my 14-year-old self, or even my 40-year-old self, and I never believed I could get to that point,” said Mr McManus, 53, the Conservative Party. Members and former political associates, whose course life is hardly typical of successful writers.
The plan now is to move production outside of London, improve it and, if a mainstream audience can be found for a documentary political drama, secure a full run in the West End.
This would be an unusual success for someone coming to the theater after decades in and around British politics, which first witnessed tectonic changes in the Conservative Party, as it bitterly engulfed the country’s place in Europe and Whose own career ambitions were ruined in the process. .
After five years in Britain’s political meltdown, Mr. McManus’ drama is nothing if not timely; It explores the origins of an argument that would drive the country’s polarization with the European Union and turbocharge the rise of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The drama centers on a feud between two former Conservative prime ministers: Margaret Thatcher, whose disapproval of European integration grew more harsh, and her predecessor as party leader Edward Heath, who took Britain as the forerunner of the European Union in 1973. . Was in Downing Street.
Speaking at a pub theater in London, Mr McManus, who once worked for Mr Heath, said the play was actually about the epic battle for the soul of the party, a struggle that culminated in Mr Johnson’s Brexit. As for the head-on accusations and their brutal purge. European supporters.
Mrs Thatcher’s growing animosity for Brussels prompted Euroskeptics, who have now taken over a Conservative party that once replaced Britain in Europe, and Mr McManus called the “Brexit delivery machine”.
The change was bad news for Mr McManus, an unrepentant Remainer who spent two decades trying in vain to secure a seat in parliament, but had to admit that his political ambitions were gone.
Born in northeastern England, Mr McManus was 7 years old when his family moved south to Kingston, not far from London. He later won a scholarship to Winchester College, a renowned private school and He went to Oxford University, where he studied politics, philosophy and economics.
If this sounds like the classic profile of a Conservative MP, Mr McManus felt isolated from contemporaries, partly because his mother was born in Hungary. For him, much of the attraction of the Tories was their hostility to communism and commitment to Eastern European countries.
That worldview propelled the Brexit debate. “No one will ever convince me that Brexit was a good option,” he said.
When Mr McManus began working for the Tories in 1990, Mrs Thatcher was to be overthrown, partly because of her hostility to European integration. His successor, John Major, had promised to keep Britain at the center of Europe – not a pledge that has aged well.
After first serving as an adviser to a Conservative cabinet minister, in 1995 Mr McManus became political secretary to Mr Heath, who by then had been out of power for two decades, still undecided about his ouster. Nicknamed the “incredible satire”, he was a worried presence in parliament who never forgave Mrs Thatcher for deposing her as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.
That feud helped inspire the play Mr. McManus began writing two years earlier, in a mid-life career change.
Those expecting Mrs. Thatcher’s character assassination are shocked; This work differs more from the suggestion of the playwright’s politics. Though she is an unattainable relic, it is the Euroskeptic Mrs. Thatcher who emerges not only as the leading man, but, surprisingly perhaps, as the good man.
Mr McManus said he wanted to end some of the polarization provoked by Brexit. But perhaps he is generous by nature – he has good things to say about the current prime minister, albeit in a backhanded manner. Mr Johnson has “a remarkable skill set,” he said, “you have to admire his techniques; I work in theater now so keep an eye on technique and win over audiences.”
As for Mr. Heath, Mr. McManus puts an equally positive shine on things, talking openly about his affection for his former boss until he is reminded of his own words in the play’s program notes. Go.
The playwright wrote that Mr Heath was “sweet and unfettered, reclusive and displeased”, a man who nurtured rancor and passive views, not someone he had once greatly admired.
“Umm, yeah, a little wasp by my normal standards,” allowed Mr. McManus, sipping his beer and laughing, “it’s a little hard to come back from that.”
Although Mr. Heath had a charming personality, tempting Mr. McManus for the job of political secretary, once he accepted. In 2000, he lost his job with Mr Heath immediately and permanently after Mr McManus announced that he would run for parliament in the following year’s general election. “He decided he was going to get rid of me when I was on vacation,” he said.
Mr McManus fell behind in that election and never managed to be elected as a candidate again, the first step in running for office under the British system. But many career paths emerged; He later worked as a consultant, a journalist and director of a media watchdog. He also wrote several books, including One About Mr Heath. Another, “Tory Pride and Prejudice”, described a change in the Conservative Party’s attitude towards gay rights.
When Mr McManus won his first job with the Conservative Party in 1990, it was only two years after the government passed. section 28, an infamous piece of legislation that prohibited municipalities or schools from “promoting” homosexuality. The hypocrisy of this law was evident at party headquarters in, as Mr McManus puts it, “the cauldron of homosexuality.” A quarter century later, another conservative prime minister, David Cameron, would legalize same-sex marriage.
Mr McManus worked with a young Mr Cameron at Tory headquarters in 1990, but he says he never felt on the same wavelength as his richer and better-connected contemporary, especially when discussing plans for the weekend. When Mr McManus was planning to watch a soccer match, Mr Cameron would be preparing for a posh activity like chasing deer at Grandy’s property in Scotland.
However, Mr Cameron’s decision to call the 2016 Brexit referendum turned out to be a disastrous miscalculation, his gamble on legalizing same-sex marriage (despite internal opposition).
Given his two-decade quest to become an MP, Mr McManus regrets not doing his best in Parliament in 2001. Had he got 5,000 more votes, he thinks he could have stayed in the seat for years before turning pro. Europeans were purged.
Although he has a part-time job at a law firm, focusing on theater was a gamble as he is decades older than most successful writers.
It brought, he said, a kind of excitement and satisfaction he never thought was worth achieving, a moment of pure joy when the house lights dimmed and the stage lights up at the beginning of his play at the Garrick Theatre.
“I’ve always found theater to be mesmerizing, and being charmed is a big deal,” he said.
And, think about it, there couldn’t be a better way to get some revenge on a grumpy ex-boss.