Tom and Clem

Previewed 9 April 1997, Opened 14 April 1997, Closed 26 July 1997 at the Aldwych Theatre in London

A major production of Stephen Churchett's new play Tom and Clem in London starring Michael Gambon and Alec McCowen.

July 1945. A few miles from the ruins of Berlin, the Allies are holding a victory conference in the last European royal palace ever built - the Cecilienhof, at Potsdam. When Prime Minister Clement Attlee arrives to replace his predecessor, Churchill, it's to join Truman and Stalin in re-drawing the map of Europe and starting the Cold War. But first there's an unexpected encounter with his most flamboyant new MP, radical bon viveur Tom Driberg...

The cast stars Michael Gambon as 'Tom Driberg' and Alec McCowen as 'Clement Attlee' with Sarah Woodward as 'Kitty' and Daniel da la Falaise as 'Alexei'. Directed by Richard Wilson with designs by Rob Howell, lighting by Mick Hughes and sound by John A Leonard.

"Stephen Churchett is an arresting enough dramatist to be allowed to take the odd liberty in what is, amazingly, his first play... Why should Churchett not dream up unlikely encounters between Driberg and Attlee when the result is so entertaining and timely a discussion about the claims of idealism and compromise? Moreover, nobody would want to miss the performances at the centre of Richard Wilson's fine production... Attlee's no-frills manner and gritty dedication to one-nation politics left me wishing he was standing in my constituency on May 1. But the strength of Churchett's play, especially when it launches into Shavian-style debate towards the end, is that it gives a fair hearing both to that and to Driberg's flamboyant romanticism. The Tories come out less well, which seemed fine by the first-night audience." The Times

"It is all to rare nowadays to see a play of ideas staged in the West End; Stephen Churchett's first full-length work, built upon a fictitious encounter between Clement Attlee and Tom Driberg at the Potsdam conference of 1945, offers lengthy exchanges concerning pragmatic versus passionate socialism... The play's raison d’être is a pair of duologues between Tom and Clem, whose portentousness director Richard Wilson rashly chooses to point up... Wilson proves unable to pace the awkward blend of grand politics, human politics and low farce, with the result that proceedings sometimes drag when they particularly need to be enlivened, and even when they ought to be cantering along at their own accord. Tom and Clem is a West End curio surfing on the wave of an historical moment, and ultimately offers more to big-name scalp-hunters than to dinner table debaters." The Financial Times

"A fascinating first play by Stephen Churchett about a fictional meeting between new Prime Minister Clem Atlee and homosexual war correspondent and Labour MP Tom Driberg in 1945. Contrasting the calm logic of a PM whose duty it is to rebuild Britain with the left-wing passion of Driberg, it offers magnificent performances from, respectively, Alec McCowen and Michael Gambon and couldn't take to the stage at a more opportune time. Richard Wilson's outstanding production is unmissable for students of politics and a rare pleasure for those seeking British theatre at its best." The News of the World

"There are a handful of actors I would cheerfully pay for the pleasure of watching them wash-up. Michael Gambon is one of them, so I was bound to enjoy Stephen Churchett's slim, meandering, half-baked Tom and Clem. Gambon's role as the journalist and Labour MP Tom Driberg is by no means demanding, but his performance - and the inspired casting and immaculate portrayal of the Labour prime minister Clement Attlee by Alec McCowen - fill the holes where the drama should be... The point of Driberg and, of course, the point of this play, is the clash of styles between him and Clement Attlee, whom he meets on the eve of the Potsdam conference in 1945... Think of a plot and there could be a play in there somewhere. Churchett hasn't got beyond the characters. Thanks though to the skills of the director Richard Wilson which have elicited superb central performances, the play ambles amiably along and is punctuated with a lazy, camp, prep-school humour which, I'm afraid to say, I found rather funny." The Mail on Sunday

Stephen Churchett explains about the background to his new play: "When I wrote the play in 1995 it was, of course, the fiftieth anniversary of the Labour landslide. At the same time there was talk of new Labour and all the debate about pragmatism, idealism and betrayal of principles. Then I started to think about the post-war period. I'm 50, so I am a product of that time. I grew up in a Europe that was divided into us and them by the Iron Curtain, which was conceived at Potsdam, and I grew up in the welfare state Attlee's government created. I was already interested in Tom Driberg having read his autobiography. I thought it would be interesting to put him and Attlee together. The reference to Potsdam in Driberg's book gave me the idea." Although the play is fictionalised Churchett explains: "I read widely. I absorbed as much as I wanted to. And I've used what I think is right. The characters I've written are, I suppose, a conflation of reality and fiction. There was stuff that I wanted to write and these real figures enabled me to address those themes. I would like to think that both of them make the best case for themselves because I suppose I am in all sorts of ways a bit Tom and a bit Clem," adding that, "the way I like to write is to float away from issues and see how the points of view resound on each other. These two people are obviously, in dramatic terms, wonderfully opposite. It's an opposition between heart and head, cavalier and roundhead, idealism and pragmatism. If I had to sum up the play, I suppose it's about compromise, both political and personal: how far do we try to fulfil our ideals in our living and how far do we become pragmatic to achieve something? Is it better to stick to your principles and be out of power, as it were, and does it make for betrayal if you dilute your ideals?"

Tom and Clem in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 9 April 1997, opened on 14 April 1997 and closed on 26 July 1997