May 7, 2015 7:14 PM

Election day becomes political drama in 'The Vote'

The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) Election campaigns are full of drama. So are election results. The bit in between, though? That's just people in polling booths, marking Xs on pieces of paper.

Think again. Playwright James Graham has discovered something funny, absurd and precious in the simple act of voting in a British election.

In "The Vote," he assembled a star-studded cast of more than 40 that includes Judi Dench, Catherine Tate of "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock" co-creator Mark Gatiss, to play the voters, candidates and election officials at a London polling station.

The play is set on election day 2015 Thursday in the final 90 minutes before polls close at 10 p.m. It has been running at London's Donmar Warehouse theater for two weeks. Thursday's final performance was broadcast live on the More4 television channel, ending just as Parliament's clock tower delivered its 10 o'clock bongs.

Graham said it was surprisingly easy to convince some of Britain's leading actors to commit to a project that combines the unpredictability of theater with the potential for disaster of live TV.

"The experience was the thing that won it for them, pitching to them what it would be like to do this live on election night," Graham said. "These are all politically active artists, and most election nights they sit at home like everyone else, with a wine watching the Swingometer" a results-measuring device that's a staple of BBC election-night coverage.

"From Judi Dench to Timothy West onwards to some really exciting young actors, these are all people who thought, 'I can't possibly pass up the chance to do something crazy, frightening, that might go wrong, that might go right.'"

Graham, 32, has become one of Britain's hottest playwrights by exploring his fascination with the mechanics of politics. His play "This House" focused on backroom parliamentary maneuvers in the 1970s. In TV drama "The Coalition," he charted the secret interparty negotiations that followed the 2010 election.

"The Vote" centers on the cross-section of humanity that passes through one polling station on election day, from a Russian lesbian so delighted with her first vote that she wants a selfie against the rules to teenagers, shopkeepers, financiers and a staggering but determined drunk.

Based on interviews with real polling staff, "The Vote" unfolds like a farce, as attempts to correct a small voting mishap spiral out of control.

The British electoral system depicted in "The Vote" seems both antique and durable. Britain has so far eschewed voting machines and online votes, though postal ballots are used alongside the traditional practice of voting by hand in schools, church halls and municipal buildings.

"Maybe there is something really precious about still making the majority of people turn up physically in a space, in a civic building, to cast your vote with a pencil and a piece of paper," Graham said. "There's something about the history behind that act that makes it symbolic and important."

Amid frantic last-minute preparations for Thursday's broadcast, Graham said he would take time to vote.

"I'm going to manufacture an excuse to stay in the polling station for as long as possible," he said.


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