Ex-prime minister and playwright united at boozy ball in Oxford
Forty years ago Douglas Lucie and Anthony Blair were at Oxford University together. They went their separate ways, Doug to become a left-wing playwright, Tony to become Prime Minister for 10 years.
Now they are reunited to listen to music and eat cannabis cake...in Doug's imagination, and in his latest work. To add to the fun, the PM-to-be is not at the centre of Solid Air, a play commissioned by the Drum Plymouth which premieres next week.
The future leader of the Labour Party was also a minor character when they were both at university.
"He was in the year above me and I never knew him," says Doug, who still lives in Oxford. "In fact his presence never registered with most people there."
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The main protagonists are folk musicians John Martyn and Nick Drake. The title comes from Martyn's album of the same name, released to critical acclaim in 1973, the year the play is set.The careers of the two performers and friends were on trajectories more divergent than those of Doug and Tony – tragically so.
Drake did not experience such great success. He suffered from depression and took his life in 1974.
Their music – performed live – is infused in the play which takes place at the Oxford Ball. Between sets, the two musicians hook up backstage with Ball Committee rep Tony, his date Sarah, anti-ball protester Dave and off-duty Special Forces squaddie George. Fuelled by hash brownies, booze, lobster and crisps, the party spend a reflective night bantering, bickering and making music as the mood gradually becomes darker.
The gathering never happened. There is a lot of writer's licence employed as Doug – a fan of both men's music – uses the dynamic to explore artistic purity versus commercial realism, social mobility and friendship. Elements of truth do run through, however. Doug was politically active at Oxford and picketed a ball, angry that the event had been turned from an inclusive, beggars' banquet event into a posh and expensive affair. That gives credence to the Dave character.
The ball really did use off-duty soldiers to provide security, which fits with George. And the man who would later parade rock stars at No 10 Downing Street did have a brief career as a rock promoter and as a singer in a band.
"There is a big 'what if?' element to this," says Doug.
"I don't talk politics, and Tony's character even says 'I didn't come here to talk politics', which gets a laugh, but that's the nearest I get to his career as PM."
Politics, though, is there in the background of Solid Air.
Solid Air runs from next Thursday November 7 to Saturday, November 23.