City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Confessions of Gordon Brown, Traverse Theatre, Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 12 March 2014

The Confessions of Gordon Brown - Hartman
Show Details
Traverse Theatre
Many Rivers Productions
Kevin Toolis (writer and director), Cillian MacNamara (lighting), Neil Dewar (lighting and sound)
Billy Hartman (Gordon Brown)
Running time: 

Does Gordon Brown Confess? Does he feel the need to do so? Should he?

In the week when the Financial Times reported that a mere 2% of US Catholics attend confession, and even allowing that Calvinism creates its own forms of personal guilt, it’s perhaps unsurprising that ‘The Confessions of Gordon Brown’ are at times a litany of complaint and evasion.

This one person play sets itself a hard task from the outset – Brown is possibly the politician who manages more than most to divide public opinion, even now, into detractors and supporters.

One might well imagine that he is also an ideal dramatic subject – a figure who could figure in Greek or Shakespearian tragedy – an idealist seemingly unaware of his own flaws, ineluctably drawn into shady deals, standing by while shameful acts are perpetrated, yet prevented by a combination of ambition and hubris from doing right when he at last has the opportunity to do so.

That isn’t what we get here – ‘The Confessions of Gordon Brown’ loops around what is generally known of his career (although large parts, particularly of his early years are ignored, apart from some unlikely Freudian speculations about his childhood), jump cutting from a post Prime Ministerial present back to 1997 and a little before, naming a few of the forgotten fallen (the late John Smith for one), while at the same time the script seems to be attempting to serve the function of the slave who walked beside Triumphing Romans, to constantly remind them that all glory fades.

Frankly, there is neither enough structure nor sufficient stake in ‘The Confessions of Gordon Brown’ to make for engaging theatre. We already know Sky News, Gillian Duffy and the Daily Mail done it, and thus don’t sufficiently care about why it came to that, or what happened afterward.

Billy Hartman as Gordon Brown has a mountain to climb over the ninety minutes performance time, and the script itself doesn’t offer him much assistance, louping from past to present, from philosophy to platitude in seconds. It may therefore seem churlish to note that in the performance seen, his frequent disappearances into the wings suggested under-rehearsal or abstraction.

It may well be that a longer run may resolve some issues, one certainly hopes so, but the structural issues mentioned seem likely to remain.

Show times

Runs til 15th March, 7.30pm


£15.50/£12.50 concessions/£8 unemployed, disabled

* * *

This review is written in the shadow of the passing of John Ritchie, a founder of the website. As John had a long-standing interest in both the arts and the Festival of Politics hosted by the Scottish Parliament, it seems appropriate to end this review with a few words about his very considerable contribution to

When this reviewer began contributing over ten years ago, John was a seemingly indefatigable presence, always encouraging to a comparative beginner. His personal qualities of professionalism, passionate interest in all aspects of Edinburgh’s Festivals, coupled with a very ‘can do’ attitude were truly inspirational.

If he could hold tenaciously to his own interpretation of some matters, or on occasion was not above cloaking a small degree of moral blackmail beneath his considerable charm, that simply rounded out his CV as a member of the human family.

That many will miss his presence is to state the obvious; but his professionalism coupled with his readiness to applaud effort and merit leave those of us who remain an example and a legacy we should cherish as we continue to work in the ways he always encouraged us to.