Chris Mullin takes centre stage in A Walk on Part

Richard Moss
Political editor, North East & Cumbria


Much as I respect many of the MPs I have dealt with, there's few I would ever expect to see at the centre of a two hour drama.

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image captionJohn Hodgkinson as Chris Mullin and Hywel Morgan as Tony Blair in A Walk on Part.

Certainly Chris Mullin wouldn't have been anywhere near the top of that list.

Yet the former Sunderland South Labour MP's parliamentary career is being played out on stage at the moment at Newcastle's Live Theatre.

A Walk on Part dramatises the first two volumes of Chris Mullin's diaries.

The diaries have already proved a surprise hit. A large part of that is down to the fact that they are very funny. But they are also an insightful record of New Labour's time in government.

With a large cast of supporting characters, the diaries ought to be almost impossible to turn into a successful play.

Yet Live Theatre have done just that.

Mullin's geekiness

This is in large part due to a remarkable performance by John Hodgkinson, who seems to have been possessed by Chris Mullin's spirit.

The Sunderland MP was always someone who was innately decent, and committed to serving his constituents and the country. He was also witty and intelligent.

John Hodgkinson captures all that, but also portrays Mullin's geekiness and a stubborn side which could irritate.

Chris Mullin was one MP who we could never get to appear live on the Politics Show on a Sunday.

He viewed that day as sacrosanct - one he would always spend with his family. He was dogmatic about it. Admirable you may well think, but annoying when he might be the one guest you needed!

That stubborn determination is on show in the play, as he refuses to have the standard ministerial pager.

New Labour

There are some tremendously funny scenes as Chris Mullin falls in and out of government.

His first posting was under John Prescott. Clearly it wasn't a meeting of minds - and Mr Mullin's main policy thrust of curbing leylandii hedges was one of the casualties.

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image captionThe cast of A Walk on Part.

He later returns to government as Africa Minister, but Chief Whip and fellow North East MP Hilary Armstrong is seen in the play as instrumental in preventing him succeed Clare Short as International Development Secretary.

But the underlying power of the diaries and the play lie in the way Chris Mullin's relationship with Tony Blair and New Labour mirrors its rise and fall.

The Sunderland MP is continually dazzled by Blair. He is in awe of his brilliance.

But he feels more and more uncomfortable as time goes on. He rebels on Iraq and on the proposed 90-day detention of terror suspects.

Dramatic story

He never though quite falls completely out of love with the PM though, but ultimately he is disappointed that the Government didn't fulfil the promise of 1997.

The decline and defeat of Labour under his successor is then brutally conveyed. If Tony Blair dazzles in this play, Gordon Brown is depicted as a paranoid, social inadequate.

Chris Mullin would certainly describe himself as a bit part player in this dramatic story.

But you suspect in years to come, it will be his diaries, and not those of his more celebrated colleagues, which may be seen as essential reading for students of the Blair government.

A Walk on Part is on at the Live Theatre until 4 June.