Written for Whatsonstage.com
Roy Smiles’ new play about the almost-election of Robert Kennedy is an uncompromising account of the fraught relationship between politics and the press. Set on the night of his assassination, Kennedy meets with three highly opinionated journalists who are initially unsympathetic towards his campaign.
Reflecting on the damage done in Vietnam, voicing scepticism about Johnson’s policies and tackling the latent racism of middle class white people, The Last Pilgrim is politically dense. The intensity of the mood is not lightened by any emotional levity either, as the second half sees a teary personal confession from Tom Quinn, one of the journalists. The influence of his personal loss is brought to bear upon Kennedy’s attitude and his interaction with James and Nancy, the other two hacks. Brendan Hughes’ portrayal of the crumbling reporter is both engaged and engaging; when the conscience of a hard-faced journalist is pricked, it overspills.
Tim Stark’s direction is heavily stylised and lives up to his name: the production feels taut and controlled, and theses is an apt sparsity to Alex Breeden’s design.
Though the presentation of The Last Pilgrim leaves little wanting, it’s difficult to get excited about the subject matter. Four people in a room waiting for election results feels like something we’ve seen before and, though necessarily a tense situation, there’s little variety in mood and tone. Although the conversation that takes place during this dramatic recreation is often interesting, the roles aren’t quite meaty enough to give it a really climactic rise and fall. Sean Patterson as Kennedy does a lot of awkward floating around the stage, and there’s an excess of quoting, both of which lessen tim gripping theatricality of the event.