Donmar Warehouse’s The Vote is a playwriting triumph

Boasting a cast populated by the likes of Judi Dench, Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, Timothy West, and many more recognisable faces, the Donmar Warehouse’s The Vote has probably already hacked off quite a lot of people for one simple reason – you can’t buy tickets. In order to get tickets, the public were asked to enter a ballot. If successful, they were allocated a date and time to attend the show, which was non-negotiable. The show will run at the Donmar from 24th April to 7th May, when it will be broadcast live on More 4 in real time, as the real general election comes to a close.

It’s a daring concept. The play itself documents the last ninety minutes in a London polling station. Each night is effectively a rehearsal for the real deal on election night. Writer James Graham and director Josie Rourke are hoping for precisely timed, perfect performances for their opening, and final, night.

Johan Pearson, whatsonstage.comSharp, witty, dangerous, moving

The play is a triumph of ingenious writing and a true credit to Graham’s abilities. It is a roaringly funny comedy with a politicised edge. But Graham is also a master of controlling his huge ensemble cast and engineering precise and hilarious scenes in a small space. In the tiny setting of the Donmar, it’s impossible not to feel absorbed in the action. You could reach out and stroke Judi Dench if you wanted to. But the setting of the primary school gym is the perfect backdrop for the subtle political games and personal drama that unfolds.

The dialogue is sharp and pop-culture references to Disney’s Frozen and Alan Turing set this play firmly in this year. The focus is on the 2015 election and an extremely close race. It’s topical, it’s current but, somehow, also timeless in its humour, making it a great watch for the audience as a whole; even those not remotely interested in the politics behind the play.

It’s difficult to select certain shining moments without giving away the best bits of the production. It is a huge, tangled web of interconnecting relationships and party politics, cleverly choreographed to have the audience gasping and laughing in equal measure. Look out for Howard, the Independent candidate (Paul Chahidi) and be prepared to never eat Haribo in the same way again.



The cast is awash with famous names and faces. Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Nina Sosanya (Silk) lead the action as the only characters who are on stage for almost the entirety of the performance, as they attempt to control the chaos of their polling station. Appearances from the legendary Timothy West and Judi Dench are brief, but well-written and entertaining. Happily, they blend into the excellent ensemble cast and don’t try to push their stardom forward. Audience members will also recognise Fisayo Akinade (Cucumber, Banana) and Bill Paterson (Law & Order) amongst others. As a cast, they seem highly comfortable around each other, negotiating the fast-paced and often busy and bustling scenes.

It’s impossible not to keep one eye on the huge clock visible on stage, as the time ticks around to 10pm and everyone waits with baited breath to see if they can bring the show down at the gong of Big Ben. It’s a unique idea, brilliantly crafted and ambitious. Will they pull it off on the night? Graham, Rourke and their 39 strong cast certainly deserve to.

The Vote will be streamed live on More 4, Thursday 7th May 8:25-10pm.